Thursday, June 14, 2012

Desperate Times: A Review

Nicholas Antinozzi's Desperate Times is an apocalypse-in-progress set after a U.S. debt default initiates a very fast, panicked collapse.  It is the first of three novels, but somewhat stands alone on its merits: such as they are.

Nicholas Antinozzi lives (according to his facebook page) in Coon Rapids, Minnesota.  He has little doubts as to his writing skill:
He believes that the literary envelope has been pushed too far and he prides himself on writing things a grandmother, or even a young teenager might stumble across, and read from cover to cover without blushing (bio source).
But enough about him: him about himself:
I'd prefer to offer a bit of advice: Death rides on the wind and it waits for no man. Find something you love and nurture that something into whatever you can make of it. Celebrate achievement after learning from your mistakes. Never, ever, waste time (non-bio source).
Death rides on the wind, so we will take his advise, and stop wasting time with his bio and get on with the reviewing.
The novel starts off with our hero, Jimmy Logan, being ushered into his bosses office and being told that the company is shutting down, and that the boss is headed for the hills.  Or since it is Minnesota, the low wetland area filled with glacier carved lakes in the northern reaches of the state.  It is exactly the same territory as where Will Weaver's YA apocalypse-in-progress novel Memory Boy. and some of Cythia Crack's Minnesota Cold takes place.  It is one of those odd coincidences that I pick up two three collapse novels almost back-to-back from such a remote area of the country.  Based on novels written, I always thought Texas was one of those surprise collapse hot spots; I guess I will have to add Minnesota to the list.

In any case, the boss is something along the lines of Jimmy's god parent so he invites Jimmy up to his luxurious woodland camp to ride out the apocalypse. 
At this point we are treated to what will become one of many rants:
"Our entire system of government was corrupted, and our economy has been running on smoke and mirrors. Where do you think that bailout money is right now? I'll tell you- it's in the bank accounts of those crooked bastards who caused this mess in the first place. We should've demanded heads, but like sheep we've become, we trusted out government to do the right thing. They let this happen. No, they made this happen. The fools just kept printing money."
The rants occasionally have something to do with the story.

Apparently the good people of Minnesota are a rather panic prone group.  Before the working day has even finished, there is panic on the streets.  In one of the many head scratching moments of the novel, Jimmy is sent off by this supposedly prepared person with a pile of cash to buy supplies at inflated prices.  There is of course violence and mayhem.
At this point we are introduced to Jimmy's girlfriend.  She refuses to go with him to the hideaway, and when Jimmy runs into an ex-girlfriend latter in the story, the start of an incredibly tedious subplot begins.  Jimmy winds up with two gorgeous girlfriends, and has to choose.

Jimmy eventually makes it back to the boss' house where everyone has assembled to ride up to the woodlands camp.  Of course the Godfather's wife has invited all sorts of people, so it is a rather large convoy.  One of the people she invites is her gay hair dresser. 

Normally, I wouldn't think of a gay hair dresser as being any better or worse to take with you on an extended stay at a woodlands camp.  O.K, I'll admit, a gay hair dresser, or any hair dresser would probably be low on my list.  Nothing against hairdressers, but in my limited world view, all things being equal, I wouldn't rank them high on my list of survival types in an apocalyptic world.  I am sure there are potential apocalypses where style points count, but thisisn't one them.  And of course, as usual, I would be wrong.

You see this is a special hairdresser.  He is an ex-special forces- Green Beret- hair dresser.  The gay Green Beret becomes another sub-rant-plot, as the author attempts to use this poorly plotted novel to convince his captive audience that gay people can make good soldiers too.  Apparently not feeling that enough verbiage was spent on this subject, he has even written a prequel featuring this character.  This is the second third gay apocalyptic-good guy champion that I have run into recently,  Oddly, in the both the somewhat over the top Etiquette for an Apocalypse, and the left-leaning Minnesota Cold the whole issue is more subdued: not here.  In any case, apparently gay good guys are too inconvenient to keep around for the end plotting.  In all three novels, the gay-hero goes down in glory.  They apparently can be heroes:  But they must not be left alive!

As soon as we get to hear our hair dressers life story in a buddy moment, I knew he was toast.  So we have to have the gay guy dying in the sobbing arms of the guy with two girl friends.  I tell you the tears were flowing.  To reuse one of my favorite quotes from Oscar Wilde  "one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."
Now I know what your saying to yourself - or maybe to me,
"Russell, your giving up us too much information, your giving away all the novels twists, turns, and surprises."

Do not be concerned.  The author will do that for you.  I have never seen a novel drop so many hints as to future problems or outcomes.  Just one example: On what so far has been a peaceful ride toward the campground:
It was the last sunset that some of the travelers would ever see.  The innocence would would be torn from their eyes as the outside world changed beyond  their comprehension.

Foreshadowing with a sledgehammer.  There is lots of this.  If it were not for  the confused plotting and improbability of much of the action, there would be no surprises at all.

Let's do a little thought exercise, lets pretend we are in an apocalypse in progress ourselves.  And we are thinking aloud here:
"Okay, so we are in a convoy of vehicles 20 + strong, with a tractor trailer to haul our supplies, and it is still the first day of the event.  We are heading into the northern watery reaches of Minnesota – an area so wet that the natives joke that the state bird should be the mosquito.
We stop of at a rest stop to take a break.  
Who is going to show up?
Why of course, you know who is going to show up!  The motorcycle gang!  The ever present post-apocalyptic panzer brigade to rescue the action!
Now, why are these motorcyclists headed north? We know they are headed North because they say so. The can’t be getting chased by the law because, even on this very first day of panic, there is no law out supposedly. One idea might be that they have grabbed all the loot they can get and are headed to safety.  But we know that that is not the case.  All they have is a stolen school bus.
So why, do the battle gods of the apocalypse, the "one-precenters" head north on the very first day, away from all the fun and excitement that they have spent their lives (by post-apocalyptic novel logic anyway) dreaming of. These guys are ready, and organized to rumble on the very first day. No hesitation. They are ready to kill. So why are they headed north to nowhere?  The stated reason to miss all this fun is that they are going up to a house they lost after a drug bust.  But that is a mindbogglingly thin reason.  So what is the real reason?

Because that is where our group is. And since it is even less plausible that a large enough gang of motorcyclists (or much anything else other than moose or bears) would be coming from the northern wilderness, they must be headed the same way as our good guys. And there must be a whole mess of them heading off to nowhere or they wouldn’t tangle with such a large group of obviously prepared folks.

Our author is taking the modern ethic of “it’s all about me” and applying it to our hero. Just as the rampaging hordes in One Second After decide to walk up into the mountains because that is where the hero lives, the motorcyclist must act in such a way that they will interfere with our hero – its apocalyptic karma chameleon– action must happen.

Now if the novel was obviously intended as a light bit of fun, I wouldn't make much of the whole episode, but along with the rants, the novel has odd little historical factoids sprinkled in at the chapter headings: Roosevelt confiscating gold, that kind of think.  As with the rants, not all of these factoids are particularly pertinent to their current situation.   Our heroic group is broke, so it is hard to see why they would be worried about gold confiscation.  Obviously the author is trying to educate us.  As a novel with obvious educational intents, we must hold it to a different standard.

There is lots of talk about the powers of FEMA in a novel where the U. S. Federal Government, via the National Guard, only puts in a very limited appearance.  The National Guard does start to roundup people and put them in camps.  What is not clear from the storyline is who they actually round up.  Since the nearby town were this brutal roundup occurs was already captured by the biker hordes, and we see the biker hordes later, it is not clear why there is anyone in the town to round up, and why the few hiding survivors wouldn't leave their presumably biker-enslaved town.  And while we are at it, if there are enough National Guardsmen to round up people in a little town in Minnesota in the middle of nowhere, and they literally have time and resources to go door-to-door, and round everyone up.  Why don't they just stop and do a little law enforcing?   They seem to have a lot of supplies and manpower.
O.k. it is obvious that I don't like the book.  That the author appears to have used sock puppets and/or friends to game the Amazon reviews of the book doesn't exactly thrill me either.  He is certainly not the first - my favorite being the academic rivals who trash each others esoteric tomes of lore - but for someone who claims to be a Joe Everyman, it is surprisingly cynical behaviour.
So let us move onto our descriptive ratings: 1 to 7 with 7 being high.  Normally, these are purely descriptive in nature, but I will use the opportunity to pound a little further on the book.

Let us start with realism.

The book is just not very logical.  Groups are running around, and doing all these inexplicable things, mostly awful, to each other with very little real sense of proportionality.  Are the free wheeling, life loving partying crowd really going to extort food by threatening to burn people at the stake?, just so they can go off and continue partying?  Desperate people do desperate things, but normal people don't party.  And with a different group that they run into, would rescued Christians response to their rescuers by violently turning on them and taking away their little camp so that you can better wait out the rapture?: with the same group being sure to keep the pretty women captives on hand?, even though their leader is a woman?
There is fair amount of combat, and none of it shows any signs that the author has done any study on the subject outside of watching movies and possibly playing first-person shooter video games.  They are amazing.  In an areas that is loaded with deer rifles, he has the characters building a wood palisade as their means of defense.  In real life bullets are going to go right through the wooden wall, and likely the splintering wood will make the injuries even more severe.   He seems to think that an M-16 on fully automatic acts like some sort of fire hose of death.  At one point, four men (granted one of them our gay superhero) take out sixty armed bikers, by virtue of surrounding them and shooting them up.   Four against Sixty, the bikers mostly all fall down and die instantly.  Many of them being cut in half by the deadly undersized carbine rounds coming from the fully auto M16s. 

There is discussion of how long the supplies will last, but unless I imagined it, the extend of their supplies seems to shift around allot.  One minute they have plenty of supplies, the next they are going to be running out soon.  There is no real quantifiable number ever noted.

So no, I don't think this book is a reasonable simulacrum of a society in collapse.  It is an action adventure movie in book form.  Some of the events are so improbable as to be of a magical nature.  The only item I can think of that is "realistic" is the general incompetence of the group.  The boss' wife inviting all her friends to their retreat is a very special moment.  I am going to say that realism is a 2. 

Readability is a little tougher.  The book was disjointed, and illogical but if you don't think to hard about it, you can probably flow through all the activity without too much trouble.   The plotting drags at many points with very uneven pacing.  It is not a page turner, but there is enough, almost random at times, activity to keep you awake through the "which girlfriend" ruminations.  It is a 3.


Stephen said...

Read it. Hate it. One of the few 'books' I'd never recommend. You hit it spot on.

russell1200 said...


LOL - yes I can hit a lollipop curve out of the park.

But you really have to love the author's autobiographical sketches: Death rides in the wind and all that.