Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cannibal Reign: A Review

Thomas Koloniar's Cannibal Reign takes us back to one of the great original doomsday devices:  the meteor strike.  It's big, it's fast, and it is headed right at us.  A couple people find out early, and can plan ahead, but when word leaks out it's just (non-zombie) mayhem.

Thomas Koloniar, is a retired sheriff's deputy (Akron, Ohio), is an Iraq War veteran who has been writing for some time.  With a degree in English Literature from the University of Akron and a minor in creative writing, he has written five novels, but this is the first one published. He is currently living in Mexico  (source interview). 

The author notes that the novel was inspired by McCarthy's The Road, but that its style is that of a commercial thriller. (source interview 2).  The author also picks up pieces here and there from other novels within the genre.  The most obvious one being the classic meteor strike novel, Lucifer's Hammer.  In this case instead of Lucifer's Hammer, we have Thor's Hammer. Arriving from deep space, it's two-miles wide, it's mostly made out of iron. Rather than its more sedentary cousins in the asteroid belt, it is coming at us fast, traveling about 30 miles/second.  It will make a hole 50 miles wide, and a blast-kill radius of 600 miles with fires being set 1,500 miles away.  North America is set to loose 300 million people in the first minute, but with the dust/earth it will scatter into space, along with sympathy-blasts from Yellowstone and other seismic areas, the rest of the world is going to be in for a very long cold 24/7 night.  Much like in McCarthy's novel, there isn't going to be a lot of planting, and as the gloom continues, the oceans begin to die.
But much like Lucifer's Hammer, half the fun is just getting to that point.  A couple of people figure out what is happening, but the government (who for a change in these novels, isn't clueless) is trying to keep a lid on the news to avoid panic.  That is the kernel for our first adventure, which involves a variety of astronomers, astro-physicists, and what not. 
The second story line is the preparation by a group of ex-Green Beret's who through their CIA connections, find out about the coming disaster.  They max out their credit cards, double down on the mortgages, and set themselves up in a unrefurbished nuclear missile silo somewhere in the vicinity of Lincoln, Nebraska.
From these two points, a few different story lines emerge and intertwine with each other.  As the public becomes aware of the danger from the asteroid, the government tries to restrict people from hording, and people, many of them not very nice people, start to panic.  Some serious groups of bad guys start their own types of preparation.
The general tone of the novel is of an action adventure, with the tactical level action playing out like the novelistic version of a first-person computer shoot-em-up.  But at the "operational" level, there is a lot of very reasonable thought as to what happens.  The author doesn't have the many military units (including called up Reserves and National Guardsmen) simply disappear into the woodwork.  They are still around, and even the most lightly armed of them have a lot of firepower.  Some of them go rogue, and some of them try to be helpful.  In general, both the good and the bad tend to break down.  How they break down depends allot on what type of leadership they are under.
The cannibals are in the title, and they show up fairly quickly.  This novel is far more realistic than The Road in how cannibalism is treated.  The novel spans about two-years of collapse.  Cannibalism is used by the desperate who loose their civilizing tendencies very quickly.  But bodies don't last long, and it is highly inefficient to feed "livestock" with food you can eat yourself.  The idea of eating rats is explored.  But rats and humans can eat a lot of the same foods, so that strikes me as one of the false notes.  Why nobody thinks to supplement their rations with mushrooms/fungus is a bit of a mystery.
The other common thread of evil is the subjection of women to a variety of evil rapists.  The old idea of  a fate worse than death, an old expression for the rape and abuse of women is played out again and again.  To the authors credit, these scenes are not detailed for the most part: it is not an attempt at disguised porn.  Given that the various rogue military units typically have the most firepower, they are often the perpetrators.   As the novels timeline advances, there are noticeably less women, and a whole lot less children populating the rather scary, frozen landscape.
So we come to the usual question?  Did I like it? 
Yes, it combines a near page turning momentum with some fairly well thought out post-apocalyptic scenarios.  The meteor scenario as depicted could do a pretty good job of a stand-in for a variety of nuclear, and volcanic disasters.  Arguably even a tipping-point global warming scenario has some commonalities.  It does a much better job of making an argument for hiding out in the deep wilderness than many of the vaguely thought out militia-economic collapse novels.  As with many action-adventure novels, the weapons are little too effective, and some of the twists-and-turns come off as a little contrived.  But the novel keeps moving, and if you don't like where its at in any given moment, you only need to wait a little bit before the scenery changes.
For our two descriptive ratings:  Realism and Readability:  1 to 7:  4 is the mid-point, 7 is high.
Realism is fairly straightforward.  In between all the running around, all sorts of supply, and sociological issues are brought up.  Even the old concerns about how the "last people on earth" are going to resolve the "who sleeps with who" issues, very popular in the old nuclear war survivor stories is revived.  The one little area that manages to hold onto a little government, with the help of the U.S. Navy, very quickly goes socialist.  It may not last, but is far more realistic than the feel good libertarian nirvanas that sometimes get proposed.  The entire population (or 98% of it) has lost their means of income, and food sources have collapsed.  How are you going to really have a barter economy when 98% of the people don't have anything?  You either go socialist if (a big if) you have the resources, or you go to anarchy.  That there is problems with the socialist eco-nirvana ideal is indicated by the fact that they pointedly have to get the oil wells back up and running in order to get their greens-schemes going:  there is no free lunch.   In any case it's Realism score:  a seven.
Readability is also easy.  It is almost a page turner.  There are a few areas where it drags a little bit, the novel is 500 pages long, but large chunks of the novel are pretty much straight up action adventure.  There is what looks like allot of inside-knowledge references to the other classics of the apocalypse-in-progress genre, but they are not required for comprehension.  It is a non-literary seven.


James M Dakin said...

I want to thank you for your reviews. I can't believe how many times you come up with stuff I've never heard of. Ordered this one from your link.

PioneerPreppy said...

This sounds like one I want to read.

russell1200 said...

Pioneer: Yes, I think you would like it. Most of the PA action is west of you though. It's always fun when a PA novel occurs in your own neighborhood. With so many writers in LA, I think that is why Hollywood has been toasted so many times.

Jim: I do auto-searches on varies derivations of ~apocalyptic novel. I pick up some real under the radar screen ones that way, and oddly enough, some of the more main stream literary ones as well. The only thing missing from this one is bolt action rifles, and some stew pot recipes - LOL!

Spud said...

I'm to the point just before impact.
So far 7 & 7 !!

russell1200 said...

Spud- LOL Now remember I intend those as descriptive not qualitative rankings.

But I am glad you like it.

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