Thursday, October 31, 2013

Duck Preps

For some reason a story about Ducks just seems very Halloween-ish to me.
I think it would be fair to say that something like 70% of your apocalypse-in-progress stories involve some sort of chaotic stockpiling at your local grocery store/big box store.
So, if you had a apocalyptic story, like Watership Down-
Evoking epic themes, the [Watership Down] is the Aeneid of the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a place to establish a new home, encountering perils and temptations along the way.  
 ..but with ducks.  Where would they go?  The grain and feed store? 
Apparently to they head to the their local CVS Drugstore.

50 Ducks Walked Into A CVS… There’s No Punchline, Just 50 Ducks In A CVS
Laura Northrup, Consumerist, 28 October 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Do ducks prepare for the winter by gathering supplies from nearby retail outlets? No, they don’t, so it’s not really clear why about fifty ducks reportedly wandered into a CVS drugstore in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and wouldn’t leave until an employee coaxed them out with popcorn.

This is the link to the video here:

They appear to be hanging out around the candy section.  So possibly ducks may not be the best folks to be getting your survival advice from.  On the other hand, sugar lasts a long time, and you won't nee to take out a second mortgage to kit yourself out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sewer emergencies

Usually the big issue in apocalyptic fiction is the power going out.

But some, if only lip service, attention is given to water turning off, and then a tiny bit to the sewer backing up.

People poop a lot, and getting rid of it all safely takes a lot more effort than is generally noted:

From A Sewer Catastrophe Companion (pdf) (hat tip: No Tech Magazine)

The guide is only 24 pages.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New bugout methods for the EMP-event?

The nuclear powered EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) that was first written about in Warday, and than copied slavishly by folks with little actual information concerning its potential effects (see One Second After) is supposed to knock all your electronics, and leave you stranded in your car miles away from home.  A large solar flare, which are not supper common but have the advantage of having actually occurred, is likely to be even more dangerous.
So what we need is a new method for hiking out of the clogged city streets that does not require electronics or fuel (no electric for gas pumps).  And we have it!

Balloon jumping!

Balloon jumping was highly speculated to be the next big thing in the 1920s.
From the July 19, 1927 edition of the Joplin News Herald in Joplin, Missouri:
Matt Novak, Paleofuture, 23 October 2013 (hat tip: Root Simple)
How helpful this sort of thing would be. We could strip the spring cherry tree without endangering our legs. We could dispense with elevators and enter our offices on the third or fourth floors by merely leaping up to the window and crawling in. We could do a thousand and one things easily that we now do with difficulty.

One of the problems was that people had a hard time avoiding power lines, but of course that wouldn't be a problem if power is out. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fast climate change

There has been a fair amount of discussion that I have seen in the popular scientific press, that climate change can occur much more quickly than the tepid pace that is often sited.
What is a little alarming is that these current finding relate to an event that is often sited as being most comparable to our situation today. 
What is alarming, is that some unusually granular sedimentary deposits seem to indicate that it all happened in a very fast acting cyclical time frame.

Climate change, 55 million years ago
Dave Ansell, Naked Scientist, 10 October 2013
Historically, Earth was much warmer. About 55 million years ago, temperatures were, on average, 8 degrees Celsius higher than they are now. There were crocodiles living off Greenland, and palm forests in Wyoming.
Suddenly, the levels of carbon-dioxide doubled and global temperatures increased by 5 degrees.
Previously, scientists had thought this warming had taken tens of thousands of years.
But now researchers Morgan Schaller and James Wright have been studying offshore clays dating from this period from Maryland and Delaware. They discovered a repeating pattern in the clay, resembling tree-rings, corresponding to a yearly cycle of rivers dropping more and less sediment into the ocean.
By looking at different isotopes of carbon present in each of the clay layers, including carbon-12, which is more easily taken up by living things, and carbon-13, which is more common in inorganic carbon sources, they found evidence for a huge injection of about 3000 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere over a period of a few months.
Over the next 13 years, this dissolved into the shallower parts of the sea causing it to become acidic, killing off more deep sea species than at the end of the cretaceous which killed off the dinosaurs. It then took 150 000 years for things to return to normal.

New Finding Shows Climate Change Can Happen in a Geological Instant
Ken Branson, Rutgers Today, 6 October 2013 (hat tip: Crazy Eddie)
Rapid” and “instantaneous” are words geologists don’t use very often. But Rutgers geologists use these exact terms to describe a climate shift that occurred 55 million years ago.
In a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Morgan Schaller and James Wright contend that following a doubling in carbon dioxide levels, the surface of the ocean turned acidic over a period of weeks or months and global temperatures rose by 5 degrees centigrade – all in the space of about 13 years.

The Abstract:
Evidence for a rapid release of carbon at the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum
James Wright, Morgan Schaller, Preceedings of the National Acadamy of Science, 5 August 2013
(PETM) and associated carbon isotope excursion (CIE) are often touted as the best geologic analog for the current anthropogenic rise in pCO2. However, a causal mechanism for the PETM CIE remains unidentified because of large uncertainties in the duration of the CIE’s onset. Here, we report on a sequence of rhythmic sedimentary couplets comprising the Paleocene/Eocene Marlboro Clay (Salisbury Embayment). These couplets have corresponding δ18O cycles that imply a climatic origin. Seasonal insolation is the only regular climate cycle that can plausibly account for δ18O amplitudes and layer counts. High-resolution stable isotope records show 3.5‰ δ13C decrease over 13 couplets defining the CIE onset, which requires a large, instantaneous release of 13C-depleted carbon. During the CIE, a clear δ13C gradient developed on the shelf with the largest excursions in shallowest waters, indicating atmospheric δ13C decreased by ∼20‰. Our observations and revised release rate are consistent with an atmospheric perturbation of 3,000-gigatons of carbon (GtC).
Thirteen years (versus the previously thought ~10,000) is a really short period of time for that type of change. 
That the whole question has been so politicized means that some will jump to quickly to make the specific analogy with our current situation, while others will dismiss or ignore the entire issue.
I have generally put climate change as a secondary driver of future problems.  Human population growth toward ~10 billion seemed like it was getting to us much faster, and would be far more problematic.  Arguably climate change (or at least half of it) is a secondary effect of population growth in any case.  But it appears that it is at least possible for climate growth to overtake the primary cause on the timeline:  Oh joy!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lucifer's Hammer meet TV135

A new big meteor is in our neighborhood.

Astronomers discover a massive asteroid that could hit us in 2032
George Dvorsky, io9, 17 October 2013 (hat tip: Big Picture)
Mark August 26th, 2032 on your calendar, folks. Ukrainian astronomers have just detected a 1,350-foot-wide (410 meter) minor planet that’s headed our way. The impact risk is minimal, but it’s now the most serious near-term celestial threat to face our planet.
As one commenter noted, that even a blast 50 times larger than the largest nuclear explosion set off (2,500 megatons) it is not an extinction event.  Unless it happens to hit near you.  As to the likely hood of it actually hitting the earth:
think [of it as a] grain of powder that will be at 10 meters from a mosquito as "almost hitting it", it will pass at almost 20 times the distance from earth to the moon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

British fuel price super spikes

The genesis is workers strike in Britain.  Although the strike is the imitator of the concern, the situation highlights the tenuous nature of a lot of the built up oil/fuel infrastructure.
Steve Hawkes, The Telegraph, 18 October 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Motoring chiefs warned that the uncertainty over the future of Grangemouth reflected the growing concerns over the rest of the refining industry in the UK following the closure of Coryton in Essex last year. 
The AA said it feared that without an urgent action plan from Ministers, the country would soon be as reliant on imported fuel as it is on imported gas and electricity to keep the lights on. This could lead to "super spikes" similar to the one at the start of 2012, when speculators were blamed for pushing unleaded to a record of more than 140p per litre.
The AA's attack came as forecourts in Scotland were urged to build up stocks in the event Grangemouth remains shutdown beyond Tuesday.
Luke Bosdet, AA public affairs spokesman, said: "Grangemouth is a symptom of a bigger threat. There is a lot of talk of European refineries needing to close because of over capacity and because they are old.
Probably because of submarine blockades curtsey of the Germans during both world wars, the British authors do seem to understand the vulnerability of modern economy to scarcity.  U.S. authors seem to require something a bit more spectacular, or they are more inclined to view the financial system as a potential culprit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Electrical grid hacking

In this article they are talking about SCADA, the monitoring and control system that utilities use to control the electrical grid in their area.
For instance if you need to work on a certain area that interconnects with the power grid, say a solar farm, you can call them and fairly quickly have them disconnect that very specific section from the grid.
Not too terribly surprising, this system is not designed to be hacker-proof. 

Electrical Grid Is Called Vulnerable to Power Shutdown
Nicole Perlroth, New York Times, 18 October 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Adam Crain and Chris Sistrunk do not specialize in security. The engineers say they hardly qualify as security researchers. But seven months ago, Mr. Crain wrote software to look for defects in an open-source software program. The program targeted a very specific communications protocol called DNP3, which is predominantly used by electric and water companies, and plays a crucial role in so-called S.C.A.D.A. (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems. Utility companies use S.C.A.D.A. systems to monitor far-flung power stations from a control center, in part because it allows them to remotely diagnose problems rather than wait for a technician to physically drive out to a station and fix it.
Mr. Crain ran his security test on his open-source DNP3 program and didn’t find anything wrong. Frustrated, he tested a third-party vendor’s program to make sure his software was working. The first program he targeted belonged to Triangle MicroWorks, a Raleigh, North Carolina based company that sells source code to large vendors of S.C.A.D.A. systems. It broke instantly.
We did have one novel, Cyberstorm, that we reviewed that picked up on this idea.  As a practical weapon, the idea of hacking into the electrical grid and shutting it down at random points is much more viable than the depictions of a high altitude EMP-strike.  And much harder to retaliate against.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nuke em till they glow, or at least until they cash in their chips

This sounds like an odd subplot within one of those nuclear Armageddon style apocalyptic novels that focus on the "high commands" point of view. 

3-star admiral fired as No. 2 nuclear commander
Robert Burns, AP News, 9 October 2013 (hat tip: NC)
WASHINGTON (AP) - The deputy commander of U.S. nuclear forces, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, was notified Wednesday that he has been relieved of duty amid a military investigation of allegations that he used counterfeit chips at an Iowa casino, the Navy said.
So it looks like we moved a few seconds further away from midnight.  I do so much like to bring cheerful news.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Western Springtime

On the gloom and doom front, the causes of failure are usually thought to be drastic.  A banking collapse that has people fighting over baby formula in a matter of minutes, a pandemic that magically works its ways to the farthest corners of the globe with a killing force never seen in such a diverse population, or a bunch of zombies that can somehow manage to bite enough people quick enough to have rampaging hordes spawning in no time. You also have the dreaded EMP, which seems to be mostly based on some quick talking and some burglar alarms in Hawaii going off. The (fortunately) very rare mega-volcano, mega-solar storm, and mega-meteors are more dramatic, but peak oil and global warming also have their fans.
But only rarely do you get collapse by demographics.  Albert Brooks and David Brin both had books about older Americans impoverishing youthful Americans through electoral might, but both also brought in global warming as a factor as well.
The sad reality is that even if none of these factors plays out, we still are likely to be having problems"

Why Growth is Getting Harder
Brink Lindsey, Cato Institute, 8 October 2013 (hat tip: MR)
Consider the four constituent elements of economic growth tracked by conventional growth accounting: (1) growth in labor participation, or annual hours worked per capita; (2) growth in labor quality, or the skill level of the workforce; (3) growth in capital deepening, or the amount of physical capital invested per worker; and (4) growth in so-called total factor productivity, or output per unit of quality-adjusted labor and capital. Over the course of the 20th century, these various components fluctuated in their contributions to overall growth. The fluctuations, however, tended to offset each other, so that weakness in one element was compensated for by strength in another. In the 21st century, this pattern of offsetting fluctuations has come to a halt as all growth components have fallen off simultaneously.
The simultaneous weakening of all the components of economic growth does not mean that slow growth is inevitable from here on out. The trends for one or more of them could reverse direction tomorrow. Nevertheless, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the conditions for growth are less favorable than they used to be. In other words, growth is getting harder.
Interestingly enough, Stephen D. King, (the economist, not the horror writer) has a new book out that also covers the coming  decline in the Western economies.

When the Money Runs Out: The End of Affluence in the Western Economies
Stephen D. King, Yale University Press, 2013, p 151
Quoting Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) in his comments on the comparison of the young United States and the French Old Regime and French Revolution public prosperity began to develop with unexampled strides. This is shown by all sorts of evidence. Population increased rapidly; wealth more rapidly still. The American war [of Independence] did not check the movement: it complemented the embarrassment of the state, but did not impede private enterprise: individuals grew more industrious, more inventive, richer than ever.  
...measurably, with the increase in prosperity in France, men's minds grow more restless and uneasy; public discontent is embittered; the hatred of the old institutions increases, the nation visibly tends toward revolution.
Note, that the "wealth" was at the upper end of the spectrum.  It is fairly normal in population driven inflationary times to have some at the upper end of the spectrum do well as the cost of labor collapses.
Disappointment drove the Arab Spring.  That "Springtime" doesn't seem to be doing well.  The two arguments above, combined together, argue for the possibility of the West having its own Springtime soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

An aside

I have been dealing with some very long working hours combined with an always hectic Fall schedule that includes my sons birthday.  Thus the less frequent posts.
Since my work is requiring a fair amount of driving at the moment, I am "reading" some audio books.  I decided to sample some zombie fair, you have seen some of them, and will see a few more, but I will eventually move on.  Although the writing quality of the published zombie fair is usually pretty good, the derivative nature of the plotting is almost stunning at times.
Since audio books require less set aside time, and thus less opportunity cost, I will probably be a little more adventurous with those selections.  Although, I like the straight up apocalyptic novel, I haven't seemed to latch onto reliable batch of them outside of a few real famous ones (Parable of the Sower for instance).  Once I get through my current purchases, I will start looking a little harder.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Court certified walkng dead

It's not a zombie horde. But the walking dead are with us.

Ohio man remains legally dead despite his recent court plea 9 October 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Consider northwest Ohio man Donald Eugene Miller Jr. the walking dead - as he has been since 1994.
Miller was ruled legally dead by a court in 1994, eight years after he disappeared from his home in Arcadia. His appeal Monday in Hancock County Probate Court to rescind his “death” didn’t earn a change of status in the view of the law.
Of course, the reason he is wanting to come back to life is so that he can start collecting on social security.

And the reason there is resistance is that the ex-wife and two children had been able to collect on his social security death benefits after he ran out on his child support payments. So the zombie here is not an innocent victim as it were.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Post-apocalyptic breakfast

When doing book reviews, I always make note at the end with regards to the "realism" of the book.  I used to refer to it as grittiness, but realized that some novels that were otherwise pretty unbelievable, certainly could be called "gritty".

The general point is to take into account how much the novel actual worries about day-to-day survival or life patterns in a world that is greatly changed.

Well obviously, in a lot of post-apocalyptic settings, people are going to be starving.  But not in all, some folks are better prepared, and other stories take place long enough after the initial collapse, that there has been a bit of a recovery.

One item, I never gave much thought to was people's eating patterns.  For instance, will people eat breakfast?  I would have thought so, but apparently they didn't use to:

Ian Mortimer on Life in the Tudor Era
Five Books Interviews, 21 March 2013
Did people not have breakfast in Tudor times?
Before about 1600 people tended not to eat breakfast. It’s in the last decades of the 16th century that breakfast became habitual. In the Middle Ages you would eat breakfast if you were going on a long journey and therefore getting up early, or if you were a worker working in a field, on a harvest day, which might be a 16 or 18 hour long working day. But on the whole most people didn’t eat breakfast. They had dinner in the late morning and then supper in the mid-to late afternoon. Those were the two meals of the day. There were a few exceptions – aristocratic families who started having ceremonial breakfasts in the 16th century and if you were ill you might have breakfast as well.
But in the 16th century all the times started to get shifted around, because people increasingly worked for other people, rather than sorting out their own times of working during the day. Therefore they have to stay at work till much later, so they can’t have supper till much later, so they start eating lunch instead of dinner in the late morning and they have to have breakfast before they start. So there is a shift to a three meal pattern.
So presuming there has been a major break with today's lifestyle, it is very possible we won't be eating breakfast.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Slowing collapse of fast food

I am not a complete fan of Tainter's "Complexity is Death" meme, but he is extremely popular in the doom and gloom crowd, so I felt that clear signs of his thesis should be reported on.

Fast-food drive-thrus are getting slower
Bruce Horovitz, USA Today, 30 September 2013 (hat tip: MR)
Never mind that its first name is "fast." The amount of time that consumers are spending waiting in lines at fast-food drive-thru windows is getting longer, not shorter, mostly due to the growing complexity of new products that the major fast-food chains are selling.
In this case it is competitive pressure that is making the menu more complex.  I don't think that is one of the drivers that Tainter includes within his causes of society becoming too complex for sustainability, but complexity is complexity.
Since one of my complaints with Tainter is that he offers no measurable benchmarks, its all faux-precision as far as I can tell - maybe we finally have something to measure.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Parable of the Sower: A Review

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is an apocalyptic novel set in the outer suburbs of Los Angeles within the context of a very slow collapse caused by global warming and a related economic collapse within the United States.  Although reasonable as a stand alone novel, it was planned to have three books written in the series.  At her death, only the second book, the Parable of Talents, was written. I "read" this novel in an audio format.


Ocatvia Butler (1947-2006) is a very famous science fiction writer.  She is winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards.   Previous to this novel, I had not read any of her work because I it seemed to gain much of its accolades from its feminist and racial politically correct (pc) themes.  To the extent that she was also writing at a period where my interest in Science Fiction was waning , and she was competing with the cyber-punk genre, I never got around to reading any of her work.  At least based on this novel, I view that as unfortunate. 

Although the various blurbs of the book seem to work very hard at making it sound like some sort of new age awakening, it is mostly a pretty straightforward book of small group survival in a very hostile, collapsed environment. 

The story starts as a very slow collapse, which around its mid-point becomes a very hard and fast personal end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it (eotwawki) disaster.  Although there is none of the ridiculous information dumps of internet-inspired survivalist advice, there is a fair amount of general survival advice.  She goes so far as to describe the contents of a very poor person's go-bag (aka bug out bag), and weapon familiarization and target practice are recommended.  There is the problem of when to leave a stable, but very tenous situation.  And the costs of the timing are extreme.  People are raped.  Major characters die, and a lot of general unpleasantness ensues.

The heroine, and sole narrator, is a young African-American lady who by the novels ending has just reached her 18th birthday.  Although racial issues are not ignored, there is none of the false empowerment often seen in novels where women are the primary leader.

The story starts in a small walled off community.  Note that this not a gated community, but literally, a semi-fortified wall community that has tried to isolate itself from its collapsing surroundings.  The author explores the tenuous alliance that exists within the small community, and the even more tenuous connection with the remnants of the old capitalist economy.  It is a world of extreme libertarianism.  The police only show up if you have the cash to pay them.

When it finally shows up, the fast-collapse involves the destruction of this world, and the setting out of a small group of survivors to a vague destination to the north.

The themes involve all sorts of ideas that would be common in the "prepper-survivalist" milieu, including fire arms training, accumulation of seed packets, and emergency escape plans.  It also includes the more subtle threats of corporate enslavement, and life where what little abundance still remains works very much to the advantage of the wealthy.

The young lady does embrace a philosophy that she call earth seed.  It combines the willingness to embrace and shape change, with the greater goal of sending humans out to the stars.  As a sort of semi-Buddhist rational, it is reasonable enough, although the goal of reaching the stars as human colonists seems more than a little far fetched given the current earth-bound situation.  The goal of the novel is far closer to that of the search for potable water, than the search for the stars.

The name of the novel comes from Matthew:

Mathew 13: 3-9
 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
This quote comes at the end of the novel, and presumably indicates that those who cannot accept the change in circumstances, or for that matter, those who are simply unlucky, are destined to perish.
I did like this novel very much. It was much starker, and much bleaker than I expected.  Although the cause of collapse is not the same, it reads like a precursor to McCarthy's famously dark novel The Road.  Communal efforts at survival are problematic in the face of an overwhelming onslaught, and even the prepared have their casualties.  The reading of the audio format was well done and seamlessly executed.
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.

The novel has a few of the speculative elements of science:  illicit drugs not yet evented, and the side effects of these drugs.  The effects of global warming, a long drought, are rather plausible given the current drought in the West.  Issues of supplies, the value of cash, the need for a paying job even in a severe collapse, are all very well thought out items. With one point off for the science fiction elements, we will call it a six.

For a novel that does not always hammer its lessons over your head, but often teaches through demonstration, it is generally a pretty fast moving affair.  The action gets started in the second half, but even the first half has enough internal community and family issues to keep it interesting.  A literary 6.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Doomsday Squad: A Review

Dom Gober's Doomsday Squad is an apocalyptic tale that postulates a potential black revolution starting in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.  There is a mysterious radical group and a lot of blood and explosions on the streets, but the revolutions success hangs on a knifes edge.

Doomsday Squad is one of a series of novels written by Joseph Nazel (1944-2006) (his real name) that involved unrest within the African-American urban community.  Some of them are linked strongly to the belief that the drug trade is used to keep blacks within the inner city in their place.  I chose this book because many of Mr. Nazel's novels are collectible, and this one by being listed under a different name was less expensive. Nazel mostly wrote under his own  name.  But as with many pulp writers, to disguise the immense output of sometimes rather similar novels, they would release some of them under a different name.

A brief biography (from here):
Nazel was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War who went on to become a prolific writer and chronicler of the black experience in America. He worked as an editor for a variety of black publications, including the Watts Times and Players magazine. But Nazel is best remembered for his books, of which there were at least sixty. 
There are more details at a Los Angeles Times Obituary .

The story begins with an attack on a local armory, an attack that ends with the death of some police officers who come on the scene in mid-crime. The revolutionary gang is mostly white idealists turned savage, and a lone embittered black Vietnam veteran.  Although in theory they all want the same thing, there is more than a little bit of a cultural clash within the group.

The second storyline of the novel involves a black narcotics police detective who recognizes the Veteran from a photograph and sets out to dissuade him from his plans.  The story is to some degree a race between the revolutionaries, and the black police officer.  The waters are muddied considerably because both the revolutionaries and the detective have people they are answerable to.

In the end, there is a lot of chaos, but the existing order is given at least a temporary reprieve.

Did I enjoy the novel?  I did up to a point.  It has a dated feel, but the writing quality is better than I expected of pulp fiction.   The novel is an interesting insight in to what would be acceptable to a black audience of the day, and shows fairly clearly why African Americans are culturally the most conservative section of the current Democratic Party's constituencies.  There is a strong desire for moral behavior, and  horror and general condemnation of the drug culture. There is a strong desire for social justice, but also an understanding that without the police, as racist as they might be, society would be much worse off.  So, I did enjoy it, but some that was truthfully because of the curiosity factor.  The story itself is clever, but not amazingly so.

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 difficult.  With modern police techniques, and our militarized police, this type of threat, would not be all that compelling today.  The actions occur within the modern world, and the activities take place within a modern setting, so I'll punt and call it a 4.

Readability is straightforward.  There is a fair amount of action, mixed in with equal amounts of philosophic dialog.  Fast and slow mix together for a 5.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

San Diego 2014: A Review

Mira Grant's San Diego 2014: Last Stand of the California Browncoats is a novella (120 pages) set as  a prequel to her well known Newsflesh series. Here we have a zombie apocalypse set within the confines of a large comic book convention. 

Mira Grant is a pseudonym of Seanan McGuire.  She describes herself as a fanatic fan of the horror genre combined with a paranoia that has her keeping up with the latest virology reports, and sleeping with a machete under bed.

This is a fairly short, direct story told as a retrospective from a much latter time when the virus-driven zombie apocalypse has been brought under control.  A writer is interviewing an ex-coastguard officer, who happens as a young teenager to have been the last person to get out of the convention center alive.  Since this information is given to us very early on, the tale is not one of hope and redemption, although there are plentiful examples of both hesitation and courage.

The zombie apocalypse, as seems common with much of the modern genre of this type, is given a bit of psycho-babble justification to make it sound somewhat plausible.  It is the typical case of a super rabies run amuck.  How a bit driven disease winds up spreading so quickly, as is typical, is papered over in the usual fashion.  But it makes for the usual entertaining romp.

A lot of the setup is involved in the geekdom of the convention itself.  In this it reminds me of the much earlier Sharyn McCrumb Bimbos of the Death Sun, which is a murder mystery set at a Sci-Fi convention.  The intent is to mix in a popular genre within the convection setting which many authors are forced to attend.  This novel does not seem to have as much fun as McCrumb's in exploring the setting, but you still get a sense of the oddities and cultural uniqueness of the event.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  With a zombie plague breaking out, it is not too surprising that some of the z-people would show up at such a large event with a world wide draw.  The z-people attack, and the story is of various groups trying to get out of the locked down convention center.

Did I like it?  It was o.k.  I am handicapped from having worked in the construction of these large arenas, and thus find the (somewhat) accidental lockdown of the arena to be highly improbable.  The explanation of the events, wouldn't pass NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards for 1920, little less 2014.  Big Arenas/places of assembly are all about multiple exit points.  Beyond that pet peeve it made for a nice little story;  But a story that  seemed a little pointless.  So I will give it an ~ (maybe yes, maybe no) recommendation.

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: it is a zombie apocalypse set within a comic convention.  As the entire events are all within one day, there really isn't a lot of time to get more attached to a general survival type situation that might give it more realism.  It is a 2.

Readability is easy.  It is very close to a page turner, or at least tries to be.  The characters are comic-crowd types and thus not the naturally heroic types that one would see going toe-to-toe with the z-folk.   It is a six.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Book of Riley: A Review

Mark Tufo's The Book of Riley: A Zombie Tale is the first part of a two-part series of zombie apocalypse novels set on the U.S. West Coast.  In it a young teenage girl, with her baby brother are trying to find there way to safety in the middle of a classic zombie outbreak.  What makes this story different is that it is told from the point of view of the three family pets (two dogs, one cat) that are going along with her, and trying to keep her safe.

Mark Tufo is a native of Boston, Massachusetts. After he graduated from Amherst he joined the U.S. Marine Corp.  Since leaving the Corp, he has worked for the Human Resources Department of a large financial institute. While still in college he wrote his science fiction series, Indian Hill.  But did not release it until 2009.   The Zombie Fallout series followed.  The author now lives in Maine with his wife and three children.

The Book of Riley series does not appear to be within the same story setting as the Zombie Fallout series.  This novel does follow its pattern of being a first person narrative.  The difference in this case is that the narrator is a female English bulldog.

The novel follows a fairly typical zombie apocalypse sequencing except that there is even less lead up to the causes of the outbreak.  Written from the dogs point of view, the zombies just show up one night in the backyard, and precede to eat up most of the family.  The dogs, and father of the family put up a valiant fight, but in the end, only the teenage daughter and infant brother are able to escape the surprise attack. 

Like many Disney classics, the animals are able to speak with each other, and understand the humans, but (other then barking at them) cannot talk to the humans.  In extremis, the bulldog can take out one zombie, but in general the two dogs are more useful for their sense of smell, and ability to trip up the zombies during their mad rush.  The cat is a bit more worldly than the dogs, and on occasion can be murder on zombie eyes.

For a novel with a lot of dead people, it is relatively light fare.  The pets don't have a lot of enthusiasm for each other at the start of the affair, and the Bulldog keeps threatening to eat the cat.  But as time goes on they get to be pretty good at working together.  It all turns into an odd road trip, taking place over a only a few weeks of time.

So what did I think?  It was  somewhat enjoyable, if a bit trite.  This is not series animal drama in the sense of White Fang, or a tear jerker like Old Yeller.  The argumentative banter got to be old pretty quickly.  The pets acted a lot like little combative siblings.  So lets call it a qualified recommendation.

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.

It's an unexplained zombie breakout with talking dogs and cats. There is some stab at worrying about provisions, but with most everyone dead, that is only a matter of dodging zombies while finding food.  Lets but it this way, even if you were a devout believer in reincarnation, and you thought you were going to come back as a family pet,  you would not find this to be a likely scenario.  It is a one.

Readability is straightforward, first person narrative, with relatively few complications.  At times, it is a page turner.  It's a six.