Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The first Great Depression!

There have been earlier financial problems.  There was a crash in silver pricing that is tied to the Phoenicians and Assyrians (their sometime empirical overlords) in the BCEs (~1200 BC).

But this is a new one to me, and it was a long time ago.

Crisis Chronicles: 300 Years of Financial Crises (1620–1920)
James Narron and David Skeie, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 24 June 2013 (hat tip: Economist)
The Kipper und Wipperzeit (1619–23)The Kipper und Wipperzeit is the common name for the economic crisis caused by the rapid debasement of subsidiary, or small-denomination, coin by Holy Roman Empire states in their efforts to finance the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48). In a 1991 article, Charles Kindleberger—author of the earlier work Manias, Panics and Crashes and originally a Fed economist—offered a fascinating account of the causes and consequences of the 1619–23 crisis. 
Kipper refers to coin clipping and Wipperzeit refers to a see-saw (an allusion to the counterbalance scales used to weigh species coin). Despite the clever name, two forms of debasement actually fueled the crisis. One involved reducing the value of silver coins by clipping shavings from them; the other involved melting the coins, mixing them with inferior metals, re-minting them, and returning them to circulation. As the crisis evolved, an early example of Gresham’s Law took hold as bad money drove out good. As Vilar notes in A History of Gold and Money, once “agriculture laid down the plow” at the peak of the crisis and farmers turned to coin clipping as a livelihood, devaluation, hyperinflation, early forms of currency wars, and crude capital controls were either firmly in place or not far behind. 
The 1920 in the lead title is presumably a reference to the various gold crises that occurred after World War 1.  Of course the second date could just as well be 1971 with the U.S. ending the convertibility of the dollar to gold. But I guess the 351 year crises isn't as interesting of a title, even if it is almost a year worth of years.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The contingency of war

Jeremy Black is a well known historian.  At the site Five Books, where people pick five noteworthy books on a subject, he is interviewed.

Jeremy Black on the History of War
Five Books Interview
What got you interested in military history?
Originally I did my work, and I still do a lot of my work, on the history of international relations and specifically British foreign policy. But I moved into military history because I started teaching general European history and felt that the standard accounts offered of military history within it were weak and inadequate. I was also troubled by the extent to which military history and war itself tend to be underplayed. Although people, including myself, don’t like war, it is a terrible mistake to assume that it doesn’t often have a highly significant role in history. And this attempt to almost align it out, which I think one can see in the changing preferences in history courses, was in my view deeply mistaken.
What kinds of things do you think it can teach people?
I think first of all it can teach people unpredictability and discontinuity, which is tremendously important. Whatever one’s political persuasion, one of the great problems with history is that people of the left, right and centre believe in inevitability, which is generally of their own values. And one of the interesting things about war is that when two powers go to war, generally both sides think they can win and invariably at least one of them is wrong. In fact generally both of them are wrong because neither of them get out of the war what they want.
To that extent war and military history represent the revenge of the contingent on the determinist. They represent the revenge of the short term on the long term and I think that is very important because the way we think about it is often overly dependent on some kind of inevitability.
Granted, he is not talking about policing actions like the U.S. invasion of Panama or Grenada.

In modern history, there has been a tendency of smaller, but skilled, opponents to under estimate the difficulty of overcoming numbers.  You could argue that the United States experience in Afghanistan and Iraq are cases in point here.  Although the U.S. forces have a huge advantage in both firepower and mobility, it is awfully hard to defeat an entire country of people if they are willing to stay the course.
On the flip side, popular fiction has many small bands of fighters fending off much larger military forces.  That is not usually the way it happens.  If only a small band is willing to fight, they get shot up sooner or latter and that is the end of it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

More on water woes

I was attracted to the headline in this one.  The author makes a number of good points, but I think some of his bullet points were particularly interesting.

Peak Water in the American West
Peter Gleick, Science News, 19 August 2013 (hat tip: NC)
  • In January 2012, the Texas town of Spicewood Beach ran out of water. Then Magdalena, New Mexico ran out. More recently, Barnhart, Texas. Now Texas publishes a list of towns either out or running out of freshwater. In some parts of Texas, demands for water for fracking are now competing directly with municipal demands.
  • Because of a severe, multi-year drought (described as “the worst 14-year drought period in the last hundred years”) and excessive water demands, the US Bureau of Reclamation, this week, announced it will cut water released from Lake Powell on the Colorado River to the lowest level since the massive reservoir was filled in the 1960s. Water levels in Lake Mead have already dropped more than 100 feet since the current drought began in 2000, but even in an average year, there is simply more demand than supply.
  • Las Vegas is so desperate for new supplies they have proposed a series of massive and controversial ideas, including: a $15+ billion pipeline to tap into groundwater aquifers in other parts of the state, diverting the Missouri River to the west, and building desalination plants in Southern California or Mexico so they can take a bigger share of the Colorado.
  • Governor Jerry Brown is pushing a $25+ billion water tunnel project to try to improve water quality and reliability for southern California farmers and cities and improve the deteriorating ecosystems of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, with no guarantees that it will do any of those things at a price users are willing and able to pay.
  • San Luis Reservoir in California, which serves the Silicon Valley and other urban users, has fallen to 17 percent because of severe drought, making business, communities, and water managers nervous. Other major California reservoirs are also far below average, though massive deliveries of water continue on the assumption that next year will be wet...
  • In the Lower Tule Irrigation District in California, demand for water has grown over the past two decades from 250,000 AF/year to 450,000 AF/year, much of it supplied by overpumping groundwater. In parts of the district, the average depth to groundwater in 1983 was 50 feet. In 2003, groundwater levels had declined to 75 feet. Today it is 125 feet, and some wells 300 feet deep are going dry. In April 2013, John Roeloffs, a farmer and member of the Lower Tule Irrigation District Board, noted “Some guys are drilling wells 800 feet deep.”
  • There is more and more and more evidence of declining snowpack in the western US as the climate warms.
Note that, as with the dwindling supply of easy to find oil, there are at least temporary solutions at hand.  It's just not clear if we can afford the cost.  And a lot of these issues are not new.  For instance Worcster's River of Empire, which he notes as one of the interesting books on the subject, is about California water problems:  it was updated in 2001.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Super Star naming: the rise, and the fall

A lot of times, the rise of a super stars name is actually part of a general naming trend.  For instance it was already becoming popular to name a girl Brittany before Brittany Spears came along.  But with a little bit of work, you can sometimes isolate the trend of naming kids after super stars.

Prepare for the Kobe Invasion
Ken Pomeroy,, 15 September 2013 (hat tip: MR)
There are many ways to measure one’s legacy, but in my opinion one of the best is by how many people name children after you. Shaquille O’Neal’s ultimate mark on humanity isn’t his four NBA championship rings, his two scoring titles, the critically-acclaimed rap album “Shaq Diesel”, or defeating Charles Barkley in the world’s first and only five-hole golf match. It’s the amount of college-aged kids currently named Shaquille or some derivative.
We are in the midst of the Shaq Boom. Based on the number of college basketball players that participated in at least 10% of their team’s minutes
Unfortunately, a world full a Shaqs is not in the making.
But very quickly it became lame to name your kid Shaq...Shaq dropped out of the top 1000 in 1997, never to appear again. Based on this information, it appears the number of Shaqs should peak this season or next, and by 2019 we may be completely Shaq-free again. That will give way to the Kobe Generation...
As the post title indicates, it is Kobe who replaced Shaq, and Kobe who will have the greater impact.  Lebron has not yet made an appearance.  Maybe all the people in Cleveland legally changed the names of their kid when he moved to Miami.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slow collapse thinking

Hmmm....I guess people are a little smarter than the cheerleading newspapers.

Five Years after Market Crash, U.S. Economy Seen as ‘No More Secure’
Pew Research 12 September 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Five years after the U.S. economy faced its most serious crisis since the Great Depression, a majority of Americans (63%) say the nation’s economic system is no more secure today than it was before the 2008 market crash. Just a third (33%) think the system is more secure now than it was then. 
Large percentages say household incomes and jobs still have yet to recover from the economic recession. And when asked about the impact of government efforts to deal with the recession, far more believe that economic policies have benefitted large banks, corporations and the rich than the middle-class, the poor or small businesses.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted September 4-8 among 1,506 adults, finds that 54% say household incomes have “hardly recovered at all” from the recession. Nearly as many (52%) say the job situation has barely recovered.
Appears that a lot folks think that zombie apocalypses are fun, but the slow collapse that we have been living in, is....not so much.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A new couch for your bunker

And what a fine color of blue it is.

The world’s first bullet-proof COUCH! $6,700 ‘CouchBunker’ can stop a .44 Magnum bullet and store 30 guns inside; Helen Collis, The Daily Mail (U.K.), 16 August 2013 (hat tip: MR)

  • Fire-rated safe storage can store up to 30 rifles inside the couch
  • Portable cushions can be worn as armour and will stop a .44 Magnum bullet
  • Manufacturer says the sofas come in a variety of colours and materials
  • They also double up as a comfortable guest beds, firm says
The detailed pictures are at the story link above

My argument has been that the revolution will never happen because the rebellious won't find parking close enough.  Now they can stage the revolt with leaving the couch, and without even having to turn off the T.V!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fire Fire Burning Bright: and the new normal

There are a lot of problematic prepper strategies.  But one of them seems to be ignoring the fire risk.  Your recent apocalyptic novels have picked up on the idea of fires burning down the chaotic towns and cities, but don't seem to have thought about what happens when a bunch of folks, move out into the countryside.

Why Big, Intense Wildfires Are the New Normal
Climate change, untamed vegetation, and development have created a new wildfire landscape.
The large wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park has already consumed more than 184,000 acres, and shows no signs of slowing down. The blaze, which has been dubbed “Rim Fire,” is now the largest fire in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and one of the largest in California’s history. (Related: “With Rim Fire Near, a Look at Yosemite’s History With Fire.”)
The Rim Fire is one of more than 30 blazes currently churning across the West. And a combination of higher temperatures, untamed underbrush, less rain, and more developments in the region means that the number and intensity of wildfires is likely to increase in the coming years, says Don Wuebbles, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois.
“This probably is the new normal,” he says.
When I walk around the game preserves in my area, I am stunned by the amount of dead and rotting material that is allowed to lie about.  In the normal course of events these would be consumed by the occasional fire, but since those are put out, it just keeps piling up.  But I almost never here comments on it from those great naturalist survival types.
Of course if you live in a desert, its not much of an issue.

Friday, September 13, 2013

All That I See: A Review

Shane Gregory's All That I See is the second book in the zombie apocalyptic King of Clayfield Series.  It is set within the confines of the small Kentucky town of Clayfield, where the uninfected human population is dwindling fast.

We covered Shane Gregory's biography in the first book, so I won't go much further than saying he is a mid-30s museum director who works in the town of Mayfield, Kentucky.  The character is clearly modeled around him, and Clayfield is Mayfield, Kentucky.
The story line picks up after the initial surprise of zombies and the first efforts at survival have been made.  We are only a month or so into the story, so we are now getting into early spring.  Some of the major characters from the first novel are no longer with us.
Without getting into too many details, the story line involves the ever dwindling numbers of living, who often spend as much time fighting each other as the zombies, having various adventures.  Presumably many of the smart folks noted in book 1 are still off hiding in the wilderness.  Some of the characteristics  of the zombies, primarily their keen sense of smell at times, makes their survival a little more problematic.  But the other group of survivors, the ones dealt with here, the lucky ones, continue to show that they were lucky, and that most of them are slow learners.  Our main hero, admits to his luck on that point, but his learning curve isn't always as high as it aught to be either, as very basic, and easy, security measures are often neglected.
The book does a very good job of portraying the limited information available to people in a grid down situation.  All sorts of odd, unexplained events occur off screen, and are never really explained.  What happened to the horse trailer for instance?  You get the general drift of what is going on as it relates to our hero, but there is a lot of fuzziness at the edges.  When people become separated, it is very hard for them to find each other again.

The heroics start to get a bit fanciful.  Our museum director hero becomes much better with a weapon than one would think possible in such a short time.  Granted he gets a lot of "live action" practice, but the noisiness of the weapons precludes much actual target practice.  As our hero almost works overtime putting himself in harms way with dangerous people, we get a lot of cliff hanger style situational-escapes.  These are often well done, but turn the novel into more of an action-adventure page turner, than a well though out zombie apocalypse.

Too much time is spent mourning people who were dead back in the first book, and were not particularly sympathetically portrayed in the first place.  Whether an older guy should be hanging out a younger gal is mulled over endlessly.  And mulled is the correct word, as they are too busy running around for there to be many sparks flying in that direction.
Although the author still works at it, the personalities of the secondary characters don't come through as consistently.  There is a mother and son combination that we barely know exist, even though they are present in the room, and their eventual fate is not portrayed as being of much emotional importance to our hero.  That one silent kid, and a  college age student, who possibly is mentally handicapped, are it for the non-zombie youngsters.  Where are all the stay at home mom's with homeschooled kids?  They can follow CNN and learn the precautions just as well as an out of touch museum director.  The lack of characters outside of adult rednecks and middle class folks limits the range interactions.
It was a fun read, but I am not as enthusiastic about it as with the first novel in the series.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

We gave the first novel a 5.  A very high number for a zombie novel.  The emphasis on high adrenaline high jinx with gas guzzling armored vehicles making an appearance, and overly heroic museum directors who can consistently take out multiple persons in one-against-many confrontations drops this one down to a 3.

Readability is pretty straight forward.  Although I was listening to this one, it is obvious from the pacing and chapter breaks that there is an element of a page turner here.  A very fast, straight forward read: a seven.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Good Night Texas: A Review

William Cobb's Goodnight Texas is an apocalyptic novel of slow economic collapse set within a small Texan seaside fishing community named Good Night.  The primary driver of the economic collapse is global warming.

William Cobb was raised in Texas. Now a resident of Pennsylvania, he teaches at the writing program of Penn State and in Colorado.  He has published fiction in the New Yorker and has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, and won the Sandstone Prize. He has published a book of short stories, a book of poems, and two other novels.  His more recent novel, Bird Saviors, also has apocalyptic overtones.

The novel is a sequential series of character studies set within the background of a slow collapse in a small seashore town.  There is a realistic mix of good, bad and in-between folks.  When bad weather (a big hurricane) rolls in, it shakes things loose, but life still most follow a certain trajectory.  Unlike many catastrophic/apocalyptic novels, there is no grand re-write of peoples lives.  They simply have to pick up the pieces where they were.

The story begins with Gabriel, an often not very nice, handsome Hispanic fisherman losing his job on a boat, when the owner pulls the plug on the failing enterprise.  We get to see a rather funny series of events as Gabriel works his way, with predictable results, into getting a job as a school bus driver, and driving instructor.  Being only a little older than some of the young ladies he is transporting, it isn't going to turn out well.

The second major thread is at the motel, seaside restaurant run by a Russian √©migr√©, and the staff that works for him.  They will turn out to be the group that sticks together.  Their story gets started when someone finds a giant angel fish, with a baby horse stuck in its throat, washed up on shore.  The fish is stuffed and put up over the restaurant to attract tourists: thus the book cover.

Although I have seen some complaints that the novel is more of an interesting character study, with little plot line, that strikes me as being a bit obtuse.  The general theme goes something like this.  When the world slowly starts collapsing, the people who will make their way through it are the ones who hang (however tenuously) together and care for each other.

There is a fair amount of symbolism going on at the secondary level.  The fish is clearly the Leviathan.  The Leviathan is the ancient sea serpent that will rise from the depths, and destroy the world at the end of times.   Gabriel is the angel (Greek for messenger) who signals great changes to come.  At the end of the novel, the stuffed fish has its horse-in-mouth, replaced by the owner with an angel.  An obvious sign that the forces of darkness can be survived.  Throw in a young lady name "Uno" (aka Eve) and it completes the symbolic recovery.
I did like the book.  It is not particularly fast paces, and there is not tons of action, but there is still a lot of tension within the different characters storylines.  You very much want to know how it all turns out for people, and not everyone makes it through the dramatic events.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism: The book is set within a modern context, and other then the unusual fish washing ashore (and who's to say about that?) the events are pretty much what would be expected.  It is a seven.

Readability: The book is not a page turner, but there is still enough tension to keep things moving along.  As I noted above, there is some symbolism, and the symbolism, if missed, will make the story seem to make a little less sense.  It is a literary 5.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Distant Eden: A Review

Lloyd Tackitt's A Distant Eden is an apocalyptic prepper-survivalist novel set in the general area of San Antonio, Texas.  The apocalypse in this case happens to be set off by an enormous solar storm that destroys various electronic devises, and the electrical grid.

Lloyd Tackitt is a retired construction project manager who blogs at a Texas fishing site, and on his own personal blog.  A Distant Eden is his first novel.

Shoot out with State Trooper within minutes of the event.
Important to be the right type of survivalist
roman is 60 jerry is 45
Son Adrian is a super soldier who has reaction speeds 6x normal.

The book forthrightly states that it is as much a primer on survivalism as it is a novel.  It notes numerous information dumps are included and the author makes a point of not having active characters with the normal range of psychological flaws.  His idea of a lack of psychological flaws appears to include the ability to murder anyone who is not both a Christian and a holder of useful skills.  There is not only a U.S. forces special forces team at their beck and call, but the leader has a reaction time six times faster than normal.

One problem with using a novel as a prepper's handbook is that if you don't pick a good starting point for your disaster, a lot of your advice is going to be applicable to only a narrow range of situations.  Although the solar flare portion of the EMP scenario is reasonable, only one known massive solar flair has been recorded.  Maybe not the best choice for a general primer.  It is a little like basing your survival advice around a zombie-plague.  It works to some degree as a stand in for other disasters, but the specifics of the event intrude on the reality of the story. 

It is also a rather trigger happy book, to be a basis for survival for normal people. The event gets started so fast that within minutes of the start of the flare, one of the main characters is shooting a highway patrol officer minutes into the story, and only hours later  "hunters" are setting up road blockades to steal peoples cars.

There is far too much gunfire for the untrained family members to survive, and even the trained (six-speed) warriors get a little silly using spears and sidearms in one fight.  Apparently the author is not aware that a fair number of bikers and gang members have military experience.

The original idea behind the fast collapse novel genre was propelled forward by the fear of nuclear war and the flight to the wilderness.  The author states that is a known fact that people in disasters flee to the countryside.  I am unaware of any evidence of this propensity where there is not some underlying factor: a pandemic plague in town for instance.  Wars can cause refugees, but that is a general flight away from a perceived hostile force, and it is not clear that city types run any faster than those in the countryside.
And after we get all this how to survive advise, we finally get to the culminating action where the groups finds out that a very well provisioned group is living nearby.  The bad guus have numbers, better weapons, a top to bottom better level of training (they're mercenaries), and are well fortified.  So what does our survival adviser advise?   Attack!  And not only attack, but have part of the intricate plan involve a personal combat challenge to the leader of this evil pack!  This is survival advise?

Mind you, the group doesn't just kill the obvious bad guys.  Anyone they don't think is a good person (explicitly stated as a Christian), with useful skills, is fair game for execution if they are inconvenient to the "good guys." At one point they execute the wife and child of a poacher, because they just can't feed them. Latter on, on the same property, they don't shot an actual poacher, because they sort of now him, think he's a good guy, and he has useful skills.  All of this while explicitly debating the Christian merits of  case...stunning.

Did I like the book?  There are a few interesting scenes, and some of the advise is reasonable.  But the author is so full of himself, it becomes nausea inducing.  His long polemics aren't only on specific survival advise, but also on the future coarse of the post-collapse world.  Most of this seems pretty much cribbed from like-minded fellow travelers at various survival-type websites and blogs.  The author notes that he is a practical person; which apparently includes having few creative ideas of his own.  Why use new ideas, if you can use the same old ones?  Very practical indeed.

If the author had stuck to portraying an action adventure series, with the combat heroes with reflexes six-times faster than normal, and professional wrestler bad guys, it might have had some merit as pulp fiction.  But as a moralizing guide to survival it can only be a disaster.  Unless you are an actual Navy SEAL, using the characters actions as a basis of survival would be a disaster, and I think even a Navy SEAL would have a hard time surviving some of the silliness.  If you didn't get yourself killed by the third time you attacked a well armed group of bad guys, the good guys would string you up for murdering women and children in cold blood.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is interesting.  There is a lot of discussion, in a breezy sort of way, of various survival techniques.  There is not a lot of actual thought through about how all if it would work within the context of the scenario.  Roman, the main hero, is 60 years old and seems to have no problem evacuating his household and burying large caches of supplies in the Texas heat.  They use all sorts of very obvious water collection methods when they are supposed to be hiding out in their crawl space.  When a dozen extra people show up with his son (all well trained "nice" people of course), Roman doesn't even blink at the supply ramifications.  It is all faux realism.  So what do we call unreal, realism?  I am calling it a 4.
Readability is a little straightforward.  A medium paced action story interspersed with canned prepper advise, and survivalist rants at their worst.  It is a 5.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Billy, It's Time: A Review

Michael Buckley's Billy, It's Time is an apocalyptic novella (15,455 word count) set in the late stages of a slowly, but completely collapsing economy.  The story starts in Georgia, moves on to Nashville Tennessee and eventually ends in the mountains of Western North Carolina near the Cherokee lands.  There is a sequel that continues the story, but the novella stands reasonably well on its own.

Michael Buckley lives in the Philippines and notes at he has worked (presumably as a civilian contractor of some sort) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The story blurb from the author's website:
Billy, has been out of work for a long time. Hunger drives them to pack up and move.  Unemployment is at 50 percent, governments can no longer pay their police departments.  Criminals have taken the law into their own hands. 
They form a brotherhood with the Cherokee.  That is the only thing that can save them.
That pretty much sums up the story.  The book is an odd mix of dialog and third person narration told from a first person point of view.   The author doesn't understand that changing the tense of the delivery numerous times within a very short section of the story is off putting.  There is a fair amount of fighting and such, but the typical scene would go something like: [They attack us and kill two of our dogs, and then we attack them and kill all six of them].

There preparations consist of gathering up a group of people in Nashville, and then going around stealing, and in one case murdering an owner of a auto sales place.  They are not particularly happy about this, they are not complete sociopaths, but they swing back and forth from being somewhat thuggish (in Nashville), to all nice and respectful (in Cherokee).

When they get to North Carolina, the first thing they build is a clubhouse (I kid you not) for their group, and some sort of large photovoltaic-battery array with the electricians they have on hand.  They then install plumbing without there ever being a discussion of where the water is coming from.

So did I like it?  Well, I liked the fact that it was short.  I am not usually fussy about typos and occasional grammatical errors, but the story has the delivery level of a clever 9 year old.  The bare bones of the story would make for a descent story line, and the complete lack of sophistication of the protagonists (a survival story full of a bunch of dummies) also makes for an interesting change of pace.  So while I wouldn't recommend the story, it reads so quickly that is not nearly as painful of a read as some out there.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is tough.  The story is so bare bones that there is not a lot to work with.  Once they get to North Carolina, the preparation of the camp with its club house is mind spinningly off the wall.  But the story before that seems a reasonable rendition of a couple of fools wandering around a collapsing economy running into other down-and-out clueless folks.  We'll call it a 4.

Readability is an interesting proposition.  It's a novella, and it moves along pretty fast.  It is not too hard to follow the story.  At the same time, it is the most grammatically fouled up story I have ever read.  So what would normally be a 5 or 6 becomes a 4.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The House by the Crab Apple Tree: A Review

S. S. Johnson's The House by the Crab Apple Tree is an early nuclear-age, post-apocalyptic novelette (23 pages).  Published first in the February 1964 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (copyright 1963), it is a grim story of a mother and her daughter trying to survive in barren icy area about 2 generations after the collapse of the modern world.

S. S. Johnson (S. S. for Simon Sigvart) (1940-?) began writing sports related stories for the Hartford Courant at age 14.  He appears to have graduated ~1963 from Colorado State University with a degree in Technical Journalism.  Since that is the point that the biography for this story appears, I did not find much else other than he kept writing.  Presumably being the author of Roaches in the Temple and other stories (1969), and Burning Index(1972), and a co-author of Modern Technical Writing (1990).

In grimness, I have seen this story commented on as a precursor to McCarthy's The Road.
Paul Brians in Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction :
A woman and her daughter are besieged by brutal men in a barbaric postholocaust future (probably the result of a nuclear war, since one of the men is horribly deformed, but the war is not otherwise specified). The story is more effective than most stories of its type because its sadism, rape, and cannibalism are not softened by the sort of fake medieval trappings common to New Dark Age fiction. This is not a new culture, but the end of culture.
Prior to the story, the mother, Suara, had been taken captive by a man named Weed, and along with the daughter, been taken to an isolated abandoned ranch house far to the north.  Far enough north that it was hoped that violent scavengers wouldn't be likely to show up.
Life in the north is not easy for Suara, and it is particularly hard to keep the daughter alive. 
It was too hard to find food for too many, she knew.  When Verie [the daughter] had gotten about four, Weed had talked about the advisability of killing her because of the food.  Feigning indifference, Saura had pointed out that there seemed to be enough for three, and Weed had grown fond of her, so he forgot the idea.  One winter they almost had to kill her so they would have something to eat, but they got through all right.
Now Suara hoped a man would come to live with them for Verie.  He could help with the planting and hunting. Then they would not have to be so afraid of starving to death because Weed had not been able to find enough in the summer to last. And a man would keep Weed away from Verie.
Unfortunately, more than one man shows up. Four very mean men, and one tied up, blind freak of man they call Alice (with a hint at his purpose) being dragged along with them.

I won't go too much further into the plotting, it is a longish short story after all, and I don't want a review longer than the story.  Let's just say that the general events are brutal, with just a hint of ambiguity at the end.  The mother and daughter are left to a brutal existence, with brutal men for company, but there is both an element of acceptance of life for what it has become, and a slight hope of an escape. It is a well done story, but obviously a bit hard to find at the moment.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is not too difficult.  People are starving and running out of food.  It is not completely clear whether there is some sort of nuclear winter that has set in, or if they just moved to the far north to get away from populated areas.  Because the story has to move along quickly to fit within the space, there are a few events that are maybe not as carefully depicted as they might be, so we will call it a 6.

Readability is also easy.  It is a short story, and it moves along pretty quickly.  There are even a few plot twists thrown in within its short span.  It is a seven.

Friday, September 6, 2013

From the Fatherland, with Love: A Review

Ryu Murakami's From the Fatherland, With Love (translated by the team of Raloh McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori is a slow-collapse apocalyptic novel spiced up considerably by an intense catastrophe: a back-door North Korean invasion of the City of Fukuoka on the Island of Kyushu, one of the smaller of the four main Japanese Islands.
Ryu Murakami (from here) was born in 1952 in Nagasaki prefecture, Ryu Murakami is the enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese literature. Awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 1976 for his first book, a novel about a group of young people drowned in sex and drugs, he has gone on to explore with cinematic intensity the themes of violence and technology in contemporary Japanese society. He appears to be best known in the United Sates for his tour through the Japanese sex trade underworld in The Miso Soup. This novel was published in 2005 in Japan, but the translated version here was released in 2013.

The title of the novel, as best I can tell, is a play on the title of Robert Harris' alternate history detective novel, Fatherland (Amazon, Amazon UK), which is set in an alternate reality where Adolf Hitler has won World War 2.

We have a different sort of alternate history here.  Here we have a very slow, grinding collapse.  Although the novel, with its many narrative points of view, has many people who are still doing quite well, Japan has become even more sluggish and economically desperate than its current long decline from the 1990s when the cyberpunk novels had them being the next rulers of the world.  Most of the action is set in the Spring of 2011, with most of it happening over a very short time frame in April.  So if it is not today's (or 2011's) Japan, it is a possible near-future Japan.
As we noted at the top, the disastrous event that is the focus of the novel is a back door invasion of the City of Fukuoka by a small elite group of North Koreans.  The North Koreans get the idea from a fictional movie (but based on the actual movie "The Eagle has Landed") to land an advanced group of commandos posing as agents hostile to that dictatorship, and escaping persecution:  armed refugees if you will.  North Korea denounces the rebels, and the rebels await a second much larger (120,000 strong) group of fellow "refugees" to arrive on a motley ramshackle fleet.  The idea is to disguise the invasion aspect of the plan with just enough verbiage to slow Japanese reactions.  The Japanese, pretty much take the bate, and treat the group like violent terrorists holding hostages, rather than the advanced guard that they are.  The timeline of the book is set to the arrival of the second large wave of troops, which will essentially mean that the North Koreans have won.

In addition to the general economic malaise, the author takes issues with some trends within Japanese society.  One is, that within their society, people are very cautious and docile.  In an interview the author notes, "Japan is becoming more and more docile... I don’t know why. People maybe think that nothing will change regardless of what they do".  Within the novel they have come to value the life and well being of individuals so highly, that the threat of violence paralyzes them from reacting quickly to violent setbacks.

Which is a problem when one of your neighbors refuses to civilize with you.  In fact, if the process that leads to civilization leaves a group with the losers' end of the spoils, they may be very determined to not civilize on your terms.  Just as to some extent, Japan didn't want to play along with the new "everyone play nice" European dominated post World War 1 era, the North Koreans have a lot that they are also angry about, and a ruling system that makes sure that they stay angry.

Toward the end, a Japanese mother complains about the inactivity of the Japanese National Government:
Listening to his comments only underlined how gutless the government seemed to be. It was the same kind of attitude her husband had.  He hadn't want to leave his job, but he couldn't bring himself to turn down a friend's request. Similarly, the government didn't want the fleet to reach Fukuoka, but they couldn't risk any [retaliatory] terrorist attacks.  Choosing one thing meant sacrificing something else; so many people didn't understand this... p. 561.
The overlapping, immediate, ground level narrative switches between four general groups of people.  First is the various members of the North Korean advanced guard.  Second, and less frequent as the novel progresses, are the higher ups within the Japanese government. Third, is the Japanese in the city of Fukumo who are forced by circumstances to come into contact with, and variously deal with the occupying Korean forces, and finally a group of criminally disturbed young men who occupy a group home under the auspices of a retired criminal turned poet.
The Japanese officials in Tokyo are, if not exactly incompetent, are paralyzed by the
threat of immediate violence, and handcuffed by their own perception that violence is to be avoided at all costs.  When the Koreans counter some of their early efforts to interrupt their operations, they are paralyzed into passivity.  Having always expected the Americans to provide an umbrella of safety, they are not sure what to do when it is not forthcoming.

The local government officials, and media people are in a difficult situation.  They are very much afraid of the Koreans, but feel like Tokyo has abandoned them.  Being in a position where they are subject to immediate violent repercussions, they tend to give the North Koreans what they want: with the obvious irony that from a slightly more distant view, this makes the Koreans appear to be acting in good faith and responsibly.

The youngsters in the group home are a very mixed group.  Although at first they are rather fond of the North Koreans for beating up the local Japanese establishment, they fairly quickly realize that they are a hostile group.  All of the children suffer from severe personal isolation, and are very unstable.  These are not cute little "bad news bears" turned to good.  They have either become insane through suffering violence at an early age, or were insane and turned to violence at some point.  Throughout there activities, various individuals are apt to become casualties as temporary mental breakdowns lead to personally disastrous outcomes.

The North Korean are an interesting group.  Much like the children, they have also suffered from extreme violence, and many of them grew up in times of extreme starvation (the 1990s).  They have some of the same emotional issues as the children (isolation), but because the conditioning plays out within the backdrop of a totalitarian ideology, they tend to channel it through a rigid concept of duty and order.  They start having difficulties when faced with the extreme wealth of Japanese society.  The underwear that they are given (to keep for themselves!) is the finest clothing they have ever seen.  A distribution of watches, as reward for their commitment to duty, causes some breakdown in discipline, as the rank-and-file are not used to dealing with this type of larges.
In the end, the youth-group, through their violent insanity, winds up being the only group that mobilizes quickly to counteract the North Korean Advance Guard.  One of  adults associated with the group, a criminal financier of sorts, has spent large sums of money sneaking in a variety of deadly weapons.  The beauty pageant, of-sorts, where he displays this very deadly, but highly eccentric grouping of weapons and uniforms, is a gut wrenchingly funny moment in the annals of mall-ninja psychology. But while they have some weapons, and a lot of strange violent talents, having seen the North Koreans in action, they are very aware that they are absolutely no match toe-to-toe.  So it becomes of contest of violent, brutal, discipline, against violent, poignant, chaos. 

The novel is excellent. It is a rare apocalyptic novel that manages to portray both a grinding slow collapse, and a potentially, lighting fast collapse, simultaneously.   It shows the way that economic chaos, and social disintegration, play into the potential for further problems, and the paralysis that can make solving these problems very difficult.  The portrayal of various types of people, many of them facing very difficult situations, is very telling.  Surviving a collapse is not very likely to be a heroic event, and apocalyptic shoot-em-ups, are not going to be as much fun as they are often portrayed.  The bad guys are not always going to be a bunch of idiots, they often will be better trained, and, for that matter, their "badness" will not always be all that clear.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Outside of the North Korean backdoor invasion, which the author himself says is highly improbable, the only possible demerit is the use of an alternate timeline.  But if you pushed the Japanese dystopia a little further into the future, even that doesn't seem all that improbable.  It deals with a lot of very real events: people losing their jobs, people worried about losing their jobs, the plight of the unwanted homeless, even living life in a cruel totalitarian state.  The paralysis of a troubled modern democratic state in responding to a crisis is frighteningly real.  The Japanese cultural assumptions are not everyone's, but all cultures have their blind spots.  It is a 7.

Readability is straightforward.  It is a very well written, and the translation is excellent.  Adjusted for its long length, it is a 6.

Area of North Korean "Rebel" Encampment.  They control the box like peninsula area, with their main troop quarters (red box) being between the high rise hotel (top right) and the large hospital (bottom right).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wolf and Iron: A Review

Gordon R. Dickson's Wolf and Iron is a post-apocalyptic novel set very shortly after a sudden economic collapse has led to the ruination of the primary large urban areas through rioting and looting, with the rest of the country has atomize into smaller localized clusters.

Gordon R. Dickson (1923-2001)P: Born in Edmonton, Canada, after the death of his father, he moved to Minnesota at the age of 14.  After serving in World War 2, he got a degree in Creative Writing in 1948 from the University of Minnesota.  While there he studied with such luminaries as Sinclair Lewis, Robert Penn Warren, and Poul Anderson.  As a writer, he was most famous for his Dragon-Knight (Dragon and the George) fantasy series, and the uncompleted Childe (Dorsai) Cycle series of science fiction novels: a series of novels that is very influential in the military sci fi of today.  He won numerous awards (source) including a 1965 Hugo award for Soldier, Ask Not; a 1967 Nebula award for Call Him Lord (1966); a 1975 Skylark award; a 1977 August Derleth award for The Dragon and the George ; a 1978 Jupiter award for Time Storm ; a 1981 Hugo award for Lost Dorsai; and a 1981 Hugo award for The Cloak and the Staff (1980) (complete bibliography).  Just prior to his death he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.  This novel appears to always have been planned as a stand alone work.
As the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction noted:
Dickson showed a liking, often indulged, for hinterland settings peopled by solid farming or small-town stock whose ideologies, when expressed, violate any simple, conservative-liberal polarity, though urban readers and critics have sometimes responded to them as right-wing.  As late as the Ruined Earth tale Wolf and Iron (October 1974 as "In Iron Years"; much expanded 1990) – which embodies a Survivalist plot considerably deepened by the author's detailed and compassionate attachment to the kind of hero who understands and loves the physical world – he was still mining this fertile soil.
The novel has some interesting intersections with some other published works.  Although the thread is a light touch, it has obvious precursors to the famous Isacc Asimov Foundation series:  particularly the first in Asimov's series.  Our hero and narrative reference point, Jeebbee, much like the famous Hari Seldon, is a social scientist who can use wizbang advance mathematical calculations to predict future sociological events.  The primary driving point for his wanderings is to set up a Foundation-like basis for the fast return of modern society from its collapsed state.  This gives it the sci-fi tropes needed for it to avoid being cast in with the action-adventure survivalist novels of the day.

It is also noteworthy that this novel came out just prior to when James Wesley Rawles started the online versions of what was to become the influential militia-styled Patriots.  Although Rawles threw  some other, at times discordant, ingredients into the mix, the parallels with this novels collapse method, and extended "how-to" instructional set pieces is pointed.
The story picks up in the early phases of Jeebee's (a nickname) escape from "Stoketon", Michigan, a small university town where he was working in the new research area of Quantitative  Sociodynamics (QSD).  Using these new methods his group has come to realize that the current order is due for an cascading economic collapse sparked by a series of bank runs.  Mis-timing the collapse, and under estimating how clannish the small town will become,  Jeebee has had to high tale it out of town with his small collection of escape preparations which primarily include a high tech (for the day) solar scooter.  When we meet him, he is traveling at night, trying to make it to his older brother's ranch in Montana.
Jeebee, is an innocent, and is not really up to making it in the world on his own.  Through a series of misadventures, Jeebee and the newly met, captive Wolf help each other escape from a small town where the local get dangerous.  Becoming something of a bonded bare,  the two of them have a variety of excursions and adventures.  Wolf is already adapted to this new brutal world, and as time goes on, Jeebee begins to understand, and more importantly live, the world-view needed for survival.

The novels pacing could be thought of as not so much plodding, as detailed, or alternatively, ploddingly detailed.   The author takes sufficient time to describe what is going on, and why.  Since Jeebee is a social scientist he is able to make reasonably plausible assessments of what he observes in his travels.  The author does manage some timeline progression by some soft jumps in narrative time.   The early portions have the feel of a Louis L' Amour western novel, but with more content, and the action less forced.  There is action, but it is of a more sporadic, natural pacing.  Much of it is viewed at a distant, or retrospectively by viewing burned out homes, or by third-person recounting of events.  The book has much more of a naturalist feel than the typical "prepper" style novel.   The book is taking place in the wide out open spaces, with a relatively low population density.  So nature is as dangerous as the people.
There is one little part of the story where a young lady is captured by two men to do housework.  A more sensationalist novelist would have turned this into a sexual-predation scenario.  But the scenario is not at all implausible.  Many of the women captured by the Native Americans were not sexually attacked, but were literally put to work.  The work that women did in pre-industrial society was long, difficult, and not a lot of fun.  Even in early modern times, the death of the wife in a middle class English family was a disaster.  The various cooking and cleaning tasks that we now accomplish with machinery took hours.    Bachelors often stayed at a boarding house where at least some of these tasks could be done for them.  Living by oneself, without servants, was not a pleasant idea.  I think our author here understands the dynamics.
Did I like the novel?  Yes I did.  I would warn perspective readers that it is not a particularly easy read if you don't like a lot of backwoods survival lore, and skills, enumerated in detail.  To be honest, after a while, you can sort of blur your way through all the arts-and-crafty sort of stuff, if you get anxious to find out what is going to happen to everyone.  Because you take a lot of time with them, the characters that we meet along the way are very real.  Even a few of the characters we never meet in person (the wolf-keeper for instance) we come to feel that we know.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism:  Given the level of detail, you would think that I would have no problem calling it a 7.  But to my mind, the author was a bit loose with the supply concerns, and a little bit seemed to go a long way.  Ammo was voiced as a "concern", but shoot, Geebee turned down the option of taking trapping gear with him at one point.  So I will hedge a bit and say we have a 6.

Readability:  Long and detailed versus long and plodding, toe-mae-toe, to-ma-ta, and all that good stuff.  It is slow.  You will need to be either a glutton for instruction, or patient.  There is nothing terribly difficult to understand symbolically, and no magical realism to decipher:  a 4.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Loud Long Silence: A Review

Wilson Tucker's The Loud Long Silence (Goodreads) is an apocalyptic novel set immediately after a nuclear biological attack wipes out the United States in, what was at the time of its publication (1952), the near future.  The story follows the story of Corporal Russell Gary, a World War 2 veteran who is left in the devastated section of the country east of the Mississippi River.  One additional problem, the western section of the country, fearing the spread of biological agents, isn't letting one in.

The relatively elegant first edition cover

Arthur Wilson Tucker (1914-2006) was a prolific adventure and science fiction magazine writer and novelist.  He is considered to be something of a pioneer within the modern science fiction genre.  He is best known for his novel, The Year of the Long Sun, but this novel is also well considered as an early nuclear age apocalyptic novel. He made a habit of using the names of friends and family for minor characters in his novels, and from this sprung the term:  Tuckerization .  He lived most of his life in Bloomington, Illinois.

The novel, taking place sometime in the "near future" of the 1950s, starts of with our "hero" watching an old lady trying  to get across a bridge from the devastated eastern side, to the clean western side of the Mississippi river under the cover of darkness.  U.S. military units gun her down.  Our "hero", ex-corporal Russell Gary than flashes back to how it all came to be this way.

It is obvious from the start that our "hero" is not generally very heroic.  He is not a complete sociopath, and (barely) has his limits, but he is completely out for himself, and is very willing to rob and steal from others if it comes to it.  Mostly he is just manipulative and tries to trick, or coerce others into doing what he wants.  As an experienced World War 2 combat vet, he has a leg up in survival skills from most folks.

We follow Gary around as he meets up with various folks, and run across various situations along the way.  A large portion of the novel involves him trying to come up with ways to get across the Mississippi River, back to the civilization that he misses.  He is warned fairly early on that he, and most of the folks left on the wrong side of the river are probably asymptomatic carriers of the deadly plague, and thus would be of great danger on that side of the river, but he doesn't worry too much about that.  He is reflective in a scheming, rather than wisdom,  sort of way.

There is a deep cynicism to the novel that reminds me of the John Christopher's British-based, No Blade of Grass.  There is a presumption that many people are not very nice when the rules are removed, and that the government is going to deceive, and manipulate the citizens to their own advantage.   Given that a lot of people in the U.S. today look back on the fifties as a sort of golden time, the bleak mode of an author of that time period is rather telling.

What is also interesting is how many ideas about the survival genre get picked up even at this early stage.  They almost immediately begin worrying about burning a smokeless fire, and how to avoid giving away their position, Gary pulls off the old prepper standby of working for a farmer guarding his fields at one point,  by the end of the novel he has come to prefer a .22LR as his primary weapon.  It is quieter and draws less attention than heavier weapons, and is still deadly enough at short range.
Did I like it?  Yes, it is bit dated, and the scenario is not one of the more likely play-outs of a post nuclear collapse, but it has a harder edge in its own way than many of the more overly heroic fair that fits within the same genre today.  It even manages to pull off a jaded, slightly happy ending which isn't even remotely reminiscent of the "cozy"-type novel.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is straightforward.  It is a novel set within its day.  The bacteriological warfare is a little too quick acting, but it follows the science of it's day.  People who cannot fend for themselves are preyed upon by people like Gary.  I have the scene which hints at cannibalism in my British print that was apparently removed from the U.S. first edition.  Knocking off a point for being a little dated, and another for some of Gary's plot driven, slightly unlikely escapades, I'll call it a 5.

Readability is straight forward.  It is a little chatty, and in its unconventional way, too contemplative to be a modern day page turner.  Beyond that the story moves along fairly quickly, and we get a lot of little vignettes of action:  a 6.

Cover of my copy - a 1980 British edition

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The King of Clayfield: A Review

Shane Gregory's The King of Clayfield (Goodreads) is a zombie apocalypse tale that starts of in a small town in Kentucky.  It uses the fairly common zombie-flu to cause a quick and chaotic end to life as we know it.  I believe this is at least a trilogy, and book two is already out.  My "reading" of the novel consisted of listening to the audio version.

Shane Gregory (1971-) grew up in rural Western Kentucky.  He graduated from Murray State University with Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts in 1996, and is now the director of a nonprofit art center (Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild) at the historic Ice House Building. He enjoys painting, running, reading, and writing. He, his wife, and two children live in rural Kentucky with a garden, a few chickens, a dog, and a cat.  This is his first novel, although a sequel has been released. On his facebook page, the author notes that Mayfield is the inspiration for Clayfield with presumably the Ice House Building being were the action starts.

From the blurb:
On a cold February day in the small town of Clayfield, Kentucky, an unsuspecting and unprepared [and occasionally wimpy] museum director finds himself in the middle of hell on earth. A pandemic is spreading around the globe, and it's turning most of the residents of Clayfield into murderous zombies. Having no safe haven to which he can flee, the director decides to stick it out near his hometown and wait for the government to send help.
I say wimpy because he won't do things like run over six-year old boys who have turned into zombies, and generally feels sorry for the ex-people.  The zombies are dangerous because of their infection, but are not a match for a person one-on-one.  However there are a lot of them.

The start of the novel doesn't feel all that much different than the many "realistic" apocalyptic novels, where people somehow know that all is lost, and immediately start battling each other 5-minutes into the "event" (EMP, plague, or economic collapse).  At least with zombies it seems more realistic: no reason to ponder what all the fighting is all about.

The story has lots of activity.   A lot of it is somewhat along the lines of a more typical "prepper" (a.k.a. survivalist) style story. 

The comment is made that the people who survived were the smart ones (the prepared) and the lucky.  The little group that forms realizes that it has been lucky, and goes about some after the fact preparing.  The zombies are difficult, but for the most part can be dealt with.  Thus, you have a lot of talking about what the ideal survival setup might be.  One house has a wind turbine, but they realize that it would be too much of a target once "regular", but not very nice, folks make an appearance.  There are definitely folks who are nicer than others, but there is a more realistic continuum of types.  There are bad guys who aren't 100% cold-blooded killers, and good guys who are dangerous because of their ineptitude.  And folks who shade into an uncomfortable gray area.

So did I like the book? Yes I did.  The author is generally good at the action scenes, which is unusual enough in itself, but also is very good at bringing all of the characters, good, bad, and even some of the zombies (sort of) to life.  The author has a better than average understanding of the weaponry, but doesn't over do it: particularly as the main character does not have this level of understanding.  In the short term survival world, rifles and ammo prevail.  They are not hard to find, and smokeless gunpowder being the equalizer it is, and there not being a super abundance of NAVY SEALs, rangers, and ex-military types sometimes found in our post apocalyptic world, women are just as capable or incapable as the case may be, as the men of holding their own. There is even some funny moments when the women demand to be treated as equals, but still want the guy to go out and do the "fixing" when its dark and cold outside:  the obvious is not ignored.  Because our hero doesn't make too big of an issue of it, our hero does pretty well attracting women.
Since, this was an audio book, I will note that the narration was generally well done, although the male narrator was not always entirely convincing with the female version of Southern speech patterns.  I generally don't notice Southern dialect much, as I am rather used to it, and I noticed it here with the women.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is fairly straightforward.  It is a very realistic novel: except for the zombies.  Although I don't normally take off for the cause of the collapse, I do when it has a continuous effect on the story.  There is a fair amount of mystery and suspense as to what makes the zombies tick and while it is interesting, you wouldn't call it "real".   The time frame is relatively short, and with the action starting some time after Christmas, there is a lot of concern about cold weather, and supplies.  It is a 5.
Readability is easy. It is a page turner in many locations, and the audio presentation probably actually slows you up at times.  There is some discussion of philosophy, and the greater scheme of life in general, but there is not much in the way of deep symbolism to be puzzled through.  It is a 7.