Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Pulse: A Review

Scott B. Williams' The Pulse is a solar flare derived apocalypse-in-progress novel set in both the area in and around New Orleans, and on a sailboat on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf Coast.  It at least partly fits in with the sub-genre of post apocalyptic nautical adventure tales.

Scott B. Williams is an outdoorsman writer who has turned to the survivalist/prepping niche.  His recent works include "how-to's" on Bugging Out, and Survivalism.  He is a relatively opinionated fellow, having also produced a book of essays, Astray of the Herd,  involving his opinion on 75 topics.  Marketers call this outdoors, lets-do-something personality, an experiential.  It is a very modern concept - previously only the wealthy had the option of choosing this lifestyle. Although he is somewhat low key about it, his book is sufficed with this type of outlook on life.
Topic 3 in Astray of the Herd (on jobs) illustrates this point:
Those two weeks and the usual paid holidays were all I had to look forward to there. The rest of my life was dedicated to work.  Selling my time. Time is the only thing we really poses in life, and no one know how much he as left.  Why can’t people see that?  Life is short. Finite. It ends.  But still, they gladly sell their time, and for what? For money…
Some would find these concepts, when pushed to these extremes, narcissistic.   That the author is aware that returning to a hunter gatherer society would involve a lot of death and destruction is noted by the fact that it is a bad-guy survivalist who desires the outright destruction of the modern world the most.  What isn't really addressed is that if that if we didn't have the built up economy that currently allows 7 billion people on the planet, if we only had  3 million hunter gatherers running around in the tropics, than less than 1 percent of the people alive today would ever have been born (4/10ths of one-percent).  If you never live, because you are never born, you also have no time, and furthermore, have no choice in how not to spend it.
Well as we noted, there is a big solar flare-bang.  You don't need to wait for it. It happens immediately in our story.  Actually a little tame, by the standards of historical experience, it occurs over only a relatively short period of time.  Although Solar Flares have a much greater energy level than their fictional close cousin the EMP (discussed earlier), experimental evidence indicates that while electronics are often temporarily disabled by this type of interference, they are not necessarily permanently disabled.  Be that as it may, the more likely result of destroying large portions of the electrical grid (which do have enough conductor length to build up a serious amount of transferred energy) would likely get you a long way toward a collapse scenario as well - it would just play out  differently, the low tech hunter gatherers that the author loves so well, would not have as much of an advantage.
There are two story tracks.  One of them has a father and uncle sailing the Caribbean Seas delivering a sailboat to Saint Thomas.  The other plot line is the daughter, as a student at Tulane University in the middle of New Orleans.  It is March, which is relatively important, as spring time is probably one of the leanest times of the year to be gathering food-stuff from the wilderness.
The book does not follow the fashion, particularly fashionable in EMP/Solar Flare novels, of having everybody realize within 5 seconds of the lights going out that they must immediately go into societal breakdown. Rather realistically, most people wait for the lights to come back on.  Even if people did have their automobiles and electronics, they would drive them around or use them until they ran out of gas/batteries. 
The father, and uncle on the boat, have a much more straightforward route.  Go to New Orleans to rescue the daughter, and have high seas adventures on the way.  All of this relatively well done.  The daughter, is with one of her friends, and they meet up with a grad student acquaintance who has some experience in the hunter gatherer lifestyle from field expeditions to Guyana.  They also have adventures, and occasionally discuss the finer points of vegetarianism being tough to pull off in a survival situation.  Although the story starts off looking like the woman are going to meekly follow the more knowledgeable male grad student/Tarzan, they eventually do come to exhibit occasional moments of competence.  It is not entirely a novel of male triumphalism.
One odd note, particularly for a novel that is directed at the prepper-survivalist crowd, particularly of the bug-out variety, is that the only villain we meet in any detail is a survivalist.  In fact a survivalist who has taken many of the precautionary measures noted in the authors non-fiction books.  Its an odd choice of villains, and while not entirely out of the realm of possibilities, actually goes a long way toward arguing against the very mindset  (preparation, wilderness skills, et cetera) that the author is championing.  I guess the message is that you should find your own girlfriend/wife to take with you to your bug out hideaway.
Most of the other bad guys are much more realistically portrayed.  If you are cautious and avoid being seen by them, they will generally be avoided.  As Katrina showed, local law enforcement can be both your best friend, or your worst enemy, but mostly will be busy elsewhere trying to keep a lid on the more serious problems.
It is an interesting story.  There is a buildup in excitement toward the end, as the two groups come into closer proximity.  The author has two major screw ups in storyline sequencing that spills the beans early on the conclusion of the crises, and coincidence is used to wrap up the adventure rather abruptly.  This leaves the ending a little flat.
In general what you have is a Patriot's style "how to prep" novel , without the overt preaching.  While the group as a whole is a little overly skilled, they are not all ex-Rangers/Navy SEALS.   The information dumps are handled smoothly and in general the writing and editing is of a higher caliber than most stories of this type.
What I particularly like about this novel, and is oddly missing from many of these post-apocalyptic road show stories, is the detail and description of the landscape.  There is no assumption that the audience understands the layout of and topography of the areas that are being traveled through.  There are hills to be climbed, waters to be navigated, and lots of March rain.
We have our descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: Realism and Readability: 1 to 7 with 7 being high.
With Realism, who don't generally argue the merits of the collapse scenario.  In a general sense, we are looking at how likely one could project oneself, or a family member into the situation portrayed.  The book is set in the modern world.  Most of the characters have normal to high levels of training and experience.  They do have concerns over food and supplies, and normal everyday logistics do matter.  It is a 7.
Readability is not the literary value of the work, but literally, how easy is it to read.  Most of it is not a page turner.  Rather realistically there is a fair amount of discussion as to their plans, and motivations.  The author does a good job of keeping these from spiraling out of control though, so the story never really bogs down. The word count per page is somewhere between an info dump and a page turner, but at almost 400 pages it is not a slight book.  Everything is very straightforward, with very little hidden sub context to decipher.  It is a 6.

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