Friday, August 29, 2014

The Perseid Collapse: A Review

Steven Konkoly's The Perseid Collapse is a near future (2019)  apocalyptic novel set within the first 48 hours of the "event" and  featuring a series of bug-out and bug-ins in southern Maine and down toward Boston..  The apocalypse is left intentionally vague but has elements of an EMP-strike and a meteor strike.  The novel is part of a series, with Jakarta Pandemic (reviewed here) being a standalone prequel, but this novel being very tightly woven into the continuing storyline going forward.  It is not a true standalone novel, although I would say that the action does end a reasonable pause in the events.

Steven Konkoly lives near the coast in Southern Maine, and is now a full time writer.  I say now as when we first met him, when we reviewed the Jakarta Pandemic (2010), he was a moonlighting medical sales pro.  He has since written four other novels in addition to this one, so he is putting them out at a very quick pace.

He notes that he got help with the general preparation measure from Randy Powers of Practical Tactical, so if in his previous novel he was writing as someone who was interested in survival issues, the author is now clearly within the folds of the converted.

The title of the book comes from the Perseid Meteor Shower that occurs every year from around July 20th to August 12th each year with the shower best seeing in northern latitudes away from city lights.  Timed with this meteor shower is some sort of large meteor strike on Washington D.C. and an EMP-strike over the North American Continent.  Their some sort of distant air burst around Cape Cod, that causes a tidal wave to smash much of the Boston to Maine coastline.  Some early segues in the early introductory portion of the story leave the reader with the conclusion that this is all a secret plan by a particular group within the Chinese government.

The novel features the three neighborhood families that hung together in the Jakarta pandemic.  These families were preppers during that novel, but those events have made them up the ante  even further by adding more supplies and a bug out location further away from the populated zones.

But of course nobody is exactly where they are supposed to be, and the title wave reaches far enough inland to smash up their homes well enough that they can't just jump in their vehicles and head to safety.  And thus you get the 48 hour post event clock, presumably inspired by the Jack Bauer in the TV show 24, except that here we have both a rescue operation and a race to safety going on.

The adventure starts at Jewell Island, Maine, known for its WW2 lookout towers, where Fletcher family is sitting on a sailboat looking at the annual meteor shower.

Jewell Island, Maine (from here)

They then head home, and rescue what they can from their sodden homes, and take care of deadly naughty neighbors, and some deadly refugees from the tsunami.  At this point the group splits up.

Scarborough, Maine:  The blue dot is right next to the fire station.  The ocean is just South of the bottom of the shot (from Bing Maps: Birds eye view)
The women head 26 miles west to their lakefront bug-out home near Limerick Maine.  They of course run into naughty local yokels who failed to make the cast for the movie Deliverance by virtue of being heterosexual, and almost five-decades too late.

The destination of the bug-out: a house somewhere in the area of Limerick, Maine (More Bing: Birds eye view)
The three men head to Boston.  They will run into militia style evil local yokels on the way and have a very grand time of it.

Their target point is the Warren Towers at Boston University.

Warren Towers, 700 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Boston University:  the destination for the reverse bug-out.  Bing Maps: birds-eye view from river (looking south)
Ever the full service reviewer.  Here is one of the typical floor plans of a residential level.  Found here.

All of this, and more takes place in two days.

What is interesting is that the author has done a fair amount of prepper-style research and is clearly trying to represent a realistic, granted an exciting one, scenario.  Rather than just crib ideas from other novels, he has done some actual research on EMP strikes, and even without really coming out and saying it, admits that the known impact is not certain.  I am dubious as to the size of the effect when the source is a nuclear strike (versus solar flares), but it is nice to see somebody doing more research than just reading other fictional novels on EMP strikes.

He also spends a fair amount of time discussing and detailing contents of various types of weapons, and bug-out bags and coming up with a scenario where all of them wind up being needed.

So is this how it would all really work out, or at least something close to it?  Part of the problem is that this is the second near term apocalypse in this world, so it is arguable that people will be a little quicker to get violent this time.  They have seen it before, know it is going to get worse, so are quicker to turn evil.

But the problem with their encounters is that they seem to exist more as plot points, evil scenarios if you will, than realistic world events.  It is almost like your trapped watching the heroes playing a first person shooter video game.  Nothing has any motivation outside of how they effect the protagonists. By the time we get to the end, you have nameless, undescribed people, who our hero has never met lunging at him with knives.  Its almost like one of those Halloween haunted trails were people jump out at you to scare you. 

The concept of an evil militia is all very entertaining, but their activities are so far beyond the pale of societal norms that they appear to be escapes from the psychotic ward rather than highly opportunistic criminals.  Their activities are so risky that they are almost certain to end badly, even if our Rambo-like heroes don't show up.  It is more of an excuse to have one of those popular "apocalyptic fight for the bridge" scenes that is a staple of bugout books, than realism.  And it is set up so easy.  All the bad guys are in place, and accounted for.

This is a militia we are talking about.   Granted an evil-militia, but still a militia: military wanna-bees.  Where is the guy parked in an out of the way location with his home made ghillie suit and his Barrett .50?  They're preppers too after all.  Even if completely out of position, somebody outside unaccounted for, possibly in the woods where they are taking their captives, sorting through materials, is going to put some serious holes in our heroes.
Then you have the urban folks shooting it out with the Marines in Boston.  Why?  Marines, as is obviously shown in the novel, have an insane amount of firepower.  And not nearly enough manpower to lock down a complex environment like Boston.  Why such a small group of marines would feel compelled to take on such a huge number of folks, many of whom would be in reality just trying to walk home to the outer suburbs, or in some cases (as is the case in the story) sitting around waiting for the authorities to rescue them.

As realism goes, its just a little odd: exciting, but odd.
So it has some odd moments.  But did I like it.  This installment of the series is all right, but I am concerned.  The fact that this is the second apocalypse to occur within 4 years makes for some interesting thought patterns.  People may or may not have prepped this time around, but they have a much better idea of what to expect.  The occasional cut away scenes to give you a little bit better of an idea of what is happening in the big picture are very well done.  And even if the good guys tend to get a little too Rambo at times, they are a nutty bunch.  Except for maybe the wife, they all seem a little fuzzy, like some form of nervous breakdown may be in the cards.  If the bad guys were a little less cartoony, it would make the whole affair much more intense.   My concern is that as the story continued, the good elements became scarcer, and the weird over-the-top elements dominated.  Since this book is reliant on the continuations, I will withhold judgment.  [Note: having read the second novel know I would give it an ambivalent, negative recommendation to the series].
How might it be better?  The problem is that it is too cerebral, and plodding at times, to be a pure example of a men's-action genre novel, but too crude in its depictions elsewhere to be a literary-thriller.  AS D.J. Taylor but it in the Wall Street Journal when reviewing Nick Harkaway's Tigerman
"Tigerman," a careful survey of the evidence suggests, is what is known in the trade as a "literary thriller." What does this mean? Well, on the one hand, [it] is chocking full of aimings, blamings and maimings, in particular an absolute whipsnorter of a scene in which its hero storms a cave packed to the ceiling heroin bricks and armed guards. On the other hand it has clearly been written by some of great intelligence, keen on larding his narrative with nod to T.S Eliot and the "objective correlative," who enjoys quiet, reflective passages as much as loud, chaotic ones.  A "proper" writer in fact - and this distinction is not meant to offen the authors of non-literary thrillers - cable of being compared to Paul Theroux and Lee Child.
In effect it needs to be either tightened up and turned into proper non-literary action adventure, or tightened up in a cerebral way to make a little more sense.
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's at prepper book set in the very near future.  The short time frame of the story means that most aren't starving yet. But the tsunami  puts a lot of folks out of their homes pretty quickly, so even there the desperation starts early.  We have an extreme version of the hero being armed with an instant kill carbine, but at least he reloads it occasionally. It is a 7.
Readability is good.  At times it is a page turner, but it spends a fair amount of time in decision making dialog and argument, and the endless lists of all the different bug-in, bug-out, bug-whatever bags gets to be tedious.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Lovely Way to Burn: A Review

Louise Welsh's A Lovely Way to Burn is a murder mystery set in the middle of a pandemic that his hit London, and the British Isles in general.  It is intended to be the first in a series of three novels, but works well as a stand alone.  In an interview she has said that the later books will not share characters with the first one: a good thing as not too many of them are still around to fill out the dialog for the follow on novels.

Louise Welsh (1965-) was born in Edinburg, she is now based out of Glasgow Scotland.  She has been the owner of a used book store, a radio reporter, and a writer of crime fiction. This is her first crime fiction set in an apocalyptic setting.  Although the author is openly gay, and professes an interest in various equalitarian social causes, this world view is not force fed to the reader in the novel.

The blurb:
A pandemic called "the Sweats" is sweeping the globe. London is a city in crisis. Hospitals begin to fill with the dead and dying, but [shopping channel spokes mode] Stevie Flint I convinced that the sudden death of her boyfriend Dr. Simon Sharkey was not from natural causes.
Actually, there isn't much mystery to the fact he was killed, the problem is getting anyone to investigate one more dead body in the middle of a pandemic. So Steve, the shopping channel spokes model,   starts her own investigation.
The murder investigating by Stevie is reasonably well done: not lock tight, but interesting.  What I was also intriguing was  the various local permutations of what is obviously becoming a big collapse.  Stevie gets a lot of pressure to show up at her (go figure) short staffed work place, some of the folks she talks in her investigations are on their way out the drive with kids belted and stuff piled up in the back of the car.  More than a few witnesses don't survive to the end of the story.
The subtheme of the dubious commercialization of medicine weaves its way through much of the story, but tends to get overwhelmed by all the death.  It is also not particularly clear that some of the bad actors wouldn't eventually have gotten their due except for the distractions of the pandemic.
It was mostly fast paced and a page turner at times.  Stevie gets herself in some tight spots, but she is not an idiot, or a meek mouse, so while she does get a bit of help here or there, she does a reasonable job of getting herself out of trouble as well.   As a spokes model, she is obviously good looking, and aware of it, but the author does a good job of not letting that dominating the story.  It's just a fact that occasionally becomes important.

As is typical, I thought the plague was just a little too fast-acting.  She seems to have modeled it off the worst stories from the black death, rather than the more likely correspondence with other killers such as AIDs, Polio, or the Spanish Flu of 1918.  Oh well, as I said, that's normal.
So I liked it.  If you like murder mysteries, and you like apocalyptic stories (both in my case), you will probably like this story as well. If you are a fan of one, but not the other, you may find the mixture a bit distracting.  The next in the series is supposed to start up in a prison, which could make for a very tense, interesting situation.  A murder mystery amongst the dying murderers?
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 in the here and now, and none of the technology or science is speculative.  The characters are drawn from everyday life.  It is a little too short in timeframe to have people starving in the streets, but looting and mayhem and people heading for the hills are a feature. It is a seven.
Readability is also straightforward.  Granted a murder mystery can slow you up while you try to figure out what is going on, but it is frequently a pager turner and generally keeps the action moving: a six.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Have Waited, And You Have Come: A Review

Martine McDonagh's I Have Waited, And You Have Come is a creepy near-future post-apocalyptic novel set in water logged, disease ridden Durham Massey (close to Manchester), England.  It takes place around the old city park area, where only a handful of households are now living.

Martine McDonagh (per her bio)  has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University and has worked for many years as an artist manager in the music industry.  This was her first novel.

The story is an odd jumble of a story.  Told from the point of view of Rachel, a lonely woman, who has been abandoned, in unknown circumstances, by her boyfriend.  She seems to be slowly unraveling, as the world around her continues to slowly decay even further from its already collapsed state. As become clear as the story moves on, part of the reason that the 36 year old heroine, has survived long enough to narrate the story is that she was interested in the urban version of  prepping prior to the collapse.  But now her boyfriend has run off somewhere, and it is rather obvious that she is suffering from depression.

As narrated by Rachel, we never get an ideal, time-line style, recounting of how everything fell apart.  Global warming and an  at least partially linked pandemic played a major part.
And Rachel is not alone in feeling the effects.  Where did her boyfriend run off to? What is with the odd commune that lives in the big house nearby.  The collapse of society has left more than a few people loose at the moorings.

Where the story starts getting creepy, real quick, is that Rachel has picked up a stalker.  There is just enough civilization around, in the form of neighbors who would lend a hand, that the stalker cannot completely show his hand, but the chaos of the situation makes it difficult to figure out exactly what is going on.  You get narration from Rachel, and narration (of sorts) from the stalker, but neither of them have their wits about them, so it makes for a very strange tale.

Eventually Rachel gets a little out of her funk, and takes measures to protect herself, but it makes for a strange ride. One with an ending, that I have to admit, I did not foresee.  I did like the book, and it did finish up strongly.  But for a relatively short novel (181 pages) it is rather introspective and a little slow going at times.  Rachel's depression and funk, as they would be in real life, get to be a bit tiresome;  But its fun when she gets going.

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 very high. It is a collapsed near future.  There is a few remnant prepper items that Rachel has, but nothing extraordinarily high tech.  It becomes obvious that while Rachel was the prepper, it is here boyfriend who came to take more of a leadership role as the crises got going.  It is a seven.

It is a difficult read.  With so much confused narration, and slow lyrical pacing, it is not a fast, easy read: a literary 3.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Man in the Holoscene: A Review

Max Frisch's (translation from German by Geoffrey Skelton) Man in the Holocene is a novella (111 pages) telling the story of personal survival of an aging retiree who has wandered off from his retirement home into the Swiss Alps.

Max Frisch (1911-1991) is a famous Swiss playwright  and author.  Around the time of this writing this novella (1979),  the author was getting older and setting up a foundation to look after his affairs on his death.  He was splitting time between New York City, and his villa in Berzona, Switzerland.  Although the village the story takes place in is unnamed,  it does take place in the Canton of Ticini, where Berzona is located.  All of which indicates that there is some autobiographical speculation to the old man's plight.  The story is generally considered to be one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.

The story is fairly simple.  A retired business man is alone in his cottage in the Swiss Mountains.  Not being originally from the area, he is somewhat isolated and alone.  There is a continuous, huge downpour, that threatens to cause rock and mud slides that he fears will bury the village or at least block the way out.  Eventually the old man decides to walk over the mountains through a pass that will take him to a more settled area.

The old man unfortunately is slowly loosing his memory.  He has taken to writing down all sorts of information on scraps of paper to keep from forgetting things.  As the story progresses, old man considers lost empires, and long vanished species, as he is slowly loosing himself.  "We die alone and forgotten is a concept that the novel ponders", although it does not come to the pat nihilistic conclusion one would suspect from the story outline.

I did like the little story.  There is enough depth to it that I am sure I would benefit from a rereading.  It is of course not particularly apocalyptic in a global sense, but the novel explicitly compares our own personal death, with other long vanished kingdoms.  We all have our personal apocalypse waiting for us at some point.

Our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings were really intended for a more casual style of tale, but what the heck, here we go: 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 story does actually involves issues of supply, and concerns of being cut off.  It is an uncommon story of survival, but a realistic one: a 7.

Readability:  It is a novella, so it is short.  But there is a lot of thinking and philosophizing going on its short length.  In general, the issues are spelled out fairly clearly, so you don't need any esoteric knowledge, or a sixth sense for symbolism to catch a lot of what is going.  A relatively painless literary 4.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Fifth Wave: A Review

Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave is an apocalyptic alien invasion novel set near Cincinnati, Ohio, which starts somewhere in the fourth wave, and the 3% of humanity that are left are scattered, isolated, and generally having a lousy time of it.  This is the first installment of a trilogy, with the second book, The Infinite Sea, is available at the time of this posting.  There is a planned movie, not released at this point.  I "read" the audio version of the novel.

Rick Yancey, per the official bio, is a native Floridian and a graduate of Roosevelt University in Chicago. He earned a B.A. in English which he put to use as a field officer for the Internal Revenue Service. Inspired and encouraged by his wife, he decided his degree might also be useful in writing books and in 2004 he began writing full-time.  He currently has ten books listed to his credit.
The novel starts with our protagonist, Cassie, in desperate straights, looking back on how it all started.  So when the alien mother ship shows up overhead, we know it isn't going to be good, regardless of the wishful thinking of many.  And this is one of the subthemes of the novel.  Wishful thinking isn't going to get you very far in desperate circumstances.  Followed by the subtheme of, "trust no one".
So we start of with a series of deadly attacks in a fairly strict sequential order.  The first wave is a bid electromagnetic strike to knock out the electricity and electronics, followed by a series of large rocks dropped on ocean fault lines to swamp coastal areas under tsunamis or directly on the larger inland cities as needed.  The third is a 99% deadly pandemic.  And with the fourth wave, it finally gets personal.  Alien-human look alikes, backed up by the search-and-destroy drones, hunt down and slaughter the few remnants.  As we noted, we start with Cassie, alone, in the middle of the fourth wave.

The book revolves around Cassie's determination to find and rescue her little brother, who for unknown reasons, was carted away, rather than executed, by the human lookalike aliens.  She eventually runs into another  survivor, Evan, and is forced to make a decision about trusting anyone.

Although the early storyline involves more tension than in-the-moment action, the action eventually gets rolling.  Since it is a YA adventure story, I wouldn't say that the action is entirely plausible, and there are an awful lot of circumstantial happenings that push the envelope of credibility too close to the breaking point.  But one advantage of keeping the action moving is that you get more concerned with finding out how it is all going to be resolved, highly problematic with two more books of potential adventure to come, than worrying about all the plot details.

As noted, there are a number of subthemes woven through the narrative.  Eventually it becomes clear that the aliens actively choose to exterminate humanity, rather than coexist with us.  It brings up uncomfortable questions about the nature of our current occupation of this planet, and our decisions as to how use its resources.  Fortunately for the storyline , the aliens for the most part are found to be cruel enough to question whether their stewardship will necessarily be much better.
It makes for an entertaining enough read.  There is some romantic explorations between Cassie and Evan that beg the question of what is appropriate for a YA novel.  It is nothing that a teen wouldn't know about, but not all parents would find it appropriate.  For myself, it was an interesting intermixing of the romantic, with the more usual gritty survivalism found in your typical apocalyptic tale.  I give it a moderate, if not ecstatic 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 is a bit tricky.  Aliens are not particularly realistic, particularly not at the invasion level.  But much of the alien threat is pretty much within the same general scope of hazards as people can do to themselves.  The aliens clearly could wipe us out, but they don't want to destroy the planet's ecosphere for their own eventual uses.  So there means are limited.  They use droids, like we do, they use biological weapons, like we have, and they blow up cities, like we have.  Cassie has serious issues with supplies.  So I will say there are more realistic elements than not:  it is a 5.

Readability is more straightforward.  It is not a page turner through all points.  There is a fair amount of mystery and suspense, which while flavorful, does slow down the proceedings: it is a 5. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Anathem: A Review

Neal Stephen's Anathem is a novel set in a somewhat futuristic monastery on an earth-like planet, Arbre, that appears to be in the process of a slow decline.  Life gets interesting when some sort of space ship like object shows up overhead.

Being lazy, I will repeat the biography for Neal Stephenson that we used when reviewing REAMDE:
Stephenson is an extremely well known author; one generally considered to fall within the science fiction genre, although not all of his books are classical science fiction. We discussed an essay of his a short time ago.
This novel got a lot of attention from mainstream reviewers (NYT) because it came out shortly after his reputation making, to general audiences anyway, historical novels, Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle.  As we will see, I think it's release has been the start of a slide in the quality of his output.
The novel starts in a slightly futuristic monastery:  it has a rather archaic look to it, but buried within the stone walls is some fairly sophisticated equipment, and the minimalist garb of the monks is a self shaping affair capable of many wonders.  Although it was not immediately clear to me at first, these monks are an odd combination of technological-scientific theoreticians rather than faith based worshipers.
So how is it apocalyptic?  Well this earthlike planet has gone through many collapses.  If it were the earth, it would be the earth of the far future after a number of modern civilizations have collapsed, including at least one that  used nuclear bombs.  At first I thought they were an old earth colony, but it is better to think of the planet Arbre as simply being an alternate Earth of the far future.  A far future with technology levels similar to ours, but with some really cool wiz-bang gadgets that they still make and use from earlier eras.
So one of the main sub-themes is about societal collapse, and the warning signs that it is coming.  The arrival of faith based, non-rational religions setting up theocratic states in response to the problems of an advanced society is one of them.
There are a number of Socratic discussions throughout the book about the meaning of reality.  Given that I have been reading a fair amount on the Philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC) lately (see The Swerve, Nature's God, Lucretius' De rerum natura (~54 b.c.), Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1734), et al), I don't think I can be accused of having a disinterest in this type of subject.  But when the discussion is done in the form of renamed philosophers taking various cheap shots at an simplification of the philosophy of religion, it gets stale.  Add in an over abundance of extremely detailed descriptions of many of the high tech items we see as Erasmus, our wandering monk, surveys the land, and it is a very very long tedious read.
There is a little bit of action at the end, although one of the few bits of true sci-fi "magic" turns the ultimate finally into something of a let down.  For what its worth, in the end, Epicurus win.
The more he knew of the complexity of the mind, and the cosmos with which it was inextricably and mysteriously bound up, the more inclined he was to see it as a kind of miracle - not in quite the same sense that our [religious orders] use the term, for he considered it altogether natural.  He meant rather that the evolution of our minds from bits of inanimate matter was more beautiful and more extraordinary than any of the miracle cataloged down through the ages by the religious of our world.
And all this as part of a wedding send off speech!
So while I can't say I hated the novel, I wouldn't really recommend it either.  It isn't that there is nothing there of interest, it just takes far too long to really get there.  Why not just read the actual classical philosophers that the author is parroting?
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 low.  It's a sci-fi setting on a far future, recovered post-apocalyptic earth.  Kind of a cool idea, but it is not a setting any of us is likely find themselves in.  There is no magic per se, but even with all the gee whiz explanations, the level of the sci-fi comes close.  The infrequent actions scenes really heavily on sci-fi magic.  It is a one.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Caught in a Still Place: A Review

Jonathan Lerner's novel,  Caught in a Still Place, features a small group of survivors in a post-pandemic, globally warmed, post-apocalyptic land-tied island along the Florida Gulf Coast.  The survivors are a motley group of folks who through remoteness, and some luck, have survived the great depopulating event.

Jonathan Lerner, per the back of the book blurb, writes on art, architecture, urbanism and travel for national magazines from his home in Atlanta.  He has made claims to be a "founding" member of the Weather Underground.  The centrality of his role is unclear.  He certainly was around (See FBI bio starting on page 318, his participation with the early Venceremo Brigade trips to Cuba (second trip on page 132 and see lists of loyal WUO followers on page pdf page 378 and 382) indicate this statement to be true.  Many years later when writing of his experience (hat tip) in 2002 in the Washington Post Magazine, he denounced the group as a "cult of leftist cynicism and violence" whose members amounted to "political terrorists." For most Weathermen, he wrote in the article, "the legal consequences were negligible. We came to in a daze," he wrote. "We crawled off to lick our wounds, learn to be responsible grown-ups — hard work, for the inexperienced — and come to terms with what we had done."  The full text is (here).  Not all of which is relevant to our story here, but it certainly is an unusual bio.

The novel deals with a number of subjects that many will be uncomfortable with. Julian, the narrator, is a gay man who has lost his partner, and has had a heterosexual awakening in the presence of  young woman who is the only unattached survivor in his age group.  Many of the characters in the group are having severe adjustment issues to dealing with lost loved ones.  Although there is some concern with the possibility of danger coming from outside groups, the main challenge is simply creating a functioning social setting amongst the survivors.

The book's calm, relaxed pacing matches the isolated, beach environment.  There is not a ton of action, but there is a lot of tension about how the situation is going to resolve itself.  And with a number of aging survivors (this is Florida after all), and no medical facilities, there is a potential for causalities.

It is a relatively quick (108 pages), entertaining read.  Given the odd cast of characters, the author did a good job of not wandering off into the politically correct weeds.  So yes, I did enjoy it.  There is not a lot of plotting to discuss, just the tension of people living, and trying to live their lives, without falling apart, in an unusual setting.

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 relatively high.  Granted the concern for supplies is muted by the large amount of salvage and small remaining population, but it is does exist.  As noted, medical issues are not ignored, and that the survivors choose to survive by hiding from outsiders strikes me as being fairly reasonable.  With only four able bodied adults at the start of the story line, combat is not a great option: a six.

Readability is straightforward.  Almost a novella, the storyline is quick and to the point.  Not a page turner, but with relatively few pages, it still moves quickly:  a 5.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Famine: A Review

Graham Masterton's Famine is a cold war era apocalyptic novel set alternately in rural Kansas and Los Angeles.  The apocalypse in this case is caused by a very quick (a few weeks) breakdown in the United States food system.
Graham Masterton (1946-) is mostly known as a horror writer, but writes in a number of genres including, oddly enough, presumably non-fiction sex instruction manuals.  This novel is one of his many "thriller" novels.  He appears to be part of the dying breed of mid-list authors: no homeruns, but selling enough books to keep getting published.

The book blurb:
What happens when the richest nation on God's earth is driven to the outer limits of starvation? When the grain crop failed in Kansas it seemed like an isolated incident and no one took much notice. Except Ed Hardesty. Then the blight spread to California's fruit harvest, and from there, like wildfire, throughout the nation. Suddenly America woke up to the fact that her food supplies were almost wiped out. Her grain reserves lethally polluted. And Botulism was multiplying at a horrifying rate...
All of this sounds like something from the 1970's concerns about over population.  But it's a 1980's novel, so it is actually more of along the lines of a cold war diabolic plotters novel all taking place over an insanely short couple of weeks.
The plotline involves a large (85,000 acre or ~130 square miles) farming enterprise in the State of Kansas.  The father and brother who were going to run the place have died, and their financier, as sole heir, is now running the farm.  An odd fungus-like growth attacks the wheat crop and soon begins spreading.  His fancy pants New York City wife is bored so she goes off to visit her sister in Los Angeles. 
Given the authors stint as a writer for Mayfair, and the British edition of Penthouse Magazine, it is not too surprising that there is a fair number of pornographic sexual vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel.  Much like Lucifer's Hammer, the good guys are not particularly a faithful group of people, and religious folks who show up are going to be opportunistic nut jobs.
It does get a sliver of societal collapse at the end.  Rather thin in the details in some spots, and overly detailed  in others, the treatment is a bit haphazard.  There is a little bit of bug-out action, but the bug-out itself is almost a non-event.  Drive from Kansas to Los Angeles in the middle of an anarchistic collapse:  Sure! Why not!  Some of the folks bite the dust, but the usual reaction is something like "Gee, to bad that sniper got Charlie.  Well we better try and find a new car at the next town."
Is it any good?  Well, as a nostalgic blast from the past it has some merits.  The thriller's storyline and sense of logic is rather thin.  That so much activity can center around one dull financier turned farmer and his pretty dilettante wife just boggles the mind.  So no, other than as a curio piece, I don't recommend it.
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.
Oddly enough, buried under the absurdities of the conspiratorial plot line, there are a few stabs at realism.  The religious cult does actually try and barricade itself into a grocery store as a way to extend their survival possibilities.  But beyond that, not so much.  People can drive around all over the place without concerns for an open gas station, at the same time everyone is running out of food.  The combat is more in the way of thematic than realistic.  The novel is enough of the period to come off as dated.  We will be kind and call it a 3.
Readability is low.  Readability, by our true definition is actually one of the problems with the book.  If it was a true page turner, and a fare bit shorter than its small print 376 pages, you might have a sort of fun story.  But it is too long, and too disjointed, for such silly tripe.  As a "thriller" it rates a rather low 3.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

For Those in Peril on the Sea: A Review

Colin M. Drysdale's For Those in Peril on the Sea is an island hopping zombie apocalypse set just north of the Caribbean Sea along the Atlantic Coastline in and around the Abacos Islands off Florida.  It is intended to be the first in a series, but acts well as a standalone novel that wraps up the immediate issues of survival. The next novel, The Outbreak, is a parallel story, rather than a sequel,  set in Scotland.

Per the blurb in the back of the book, Colin M. Drysdale (a nom de plume) is a marine biologist who in addition to writing numerous works on the subject, at one time worked for a number of years around the Abacos Islands setting that is featured in the book.  He notes that he is a fan of Post-Apocalyptic fiction, and notes John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids as a particular inspiration to this novel.  He now lives in Glasgow, which explains the setting for his second novel.
Like the author, I have always been interested in the sailing-apocalypse.  Day of the Triffids ends up on an island, but I sort of like the idea of cruising around in a sailboat. For me Luke Reinhart's Long Voyage Back is the classic of the genre.  Given that some folks seem to be under the impression that a sailboat is the perfect real apocalypse ride-out/but-out vessel, with non-swimming zombies, how can you do better?
As is common with zombies these days, the zombie-apocalypse is given a scientific veneer.  The insanely quick moving breakout is a modified form of rabies.  Almost any contact puts the victim at risk, and there are apparently no immunes.
Mr. Drysdale's zombies are not particularly smart, but they are really fast, and reasonably strong.  Think of them as being more like somebody hopped up on amphetamines (like a rabid dog) than a sluggish shambler.  It is not impossible for a person to beat a zombie one-on-one, but there is usually more than one.  So for the boating folks, any land with zombies is off limits.  The zombies will win any extended encounter.  What is worse is that while zombies don't swim, if they do manage to get dumped into the water, they can float to some extent.  So there is no guarantee that any cleaned up island, or boat in harbor, will stay free of them.
With easy scavenging being limited, and the necessity of staying on the boats becomes evident, an ideal long term survival strategy becomes problematic.  How are the survivors going to get enough fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid malnutrition.
A lot of the story involves the extreme psychological duress that the survivors are going through.  Some handle it a little better than others, but none are immune to the depression inducing situation. The story never descends into the looters versus homesteaders so common in apocalyptic fiction.  The situation is too dire.  But there is a lot of personal conflict, and as the story indicates, you don't have to have open gun fire to get a deadly situation:  a lack of cooperation alone will do it.
Did I like the book?  Yes.  It starts off with some clumsy writing at the beginning of our story.  The author is almost a poster child at times for  not "showing us" versus "telling us" mistake.  He also has the occasional forward looking narrative comment that end up being a tension spoilers.  But as the story went along it settled down and became a fairly tense affair.
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.
As I have noted in the past, zombies tend to be an inherently unrealistic causer of apocalypses; particularly so when there continued presence intrudes on the story line.  I will say though, that the shear deadliness of this crew is so extreme that in some ways they become reasonable stand ins for violent conflicts with large groups of anarchic humans. Given that the story is not set over  a particularly large period of time, it is very likely that boaters in the Caribbean would be unsafe approaching land, and safe pillage would be rare.  There is limited room for clever planning.  Good guys and cute kids die. Given the realistic arguments of fighting versus farming, and issues of leadership, I will call it a 5.
Readability is straightforward.  The slight clumsiness I noted above is not actually a factor in this ratings.  It is a fairly quick and to the point read.  It is only a page turner in places, and it did slow down a little at times. It's a five.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Europe in Autumn: A Review

Dave Hutchinson's Europe in Autumn is a spy thriller set in a fragmented post-apocalyptic Europe that has splintered (even further) into an enormous number of small political units.  In the background is a general economic malaise and depopulation caused by pandemic disease.  Instead of the big open bordered entity of today, you have a collection of diminished entities in a tangle of border controls and mutual suspicion.  Enter into this equation, Rudi, the cook turned spy-courier.

Dave Hutchinson (originally publishing under David Hutchinson) (Sheffield, U.K.;  1960-) has written a variety of fantasy and science fictions while squeezing a journalist's career into the middle of it.  His Amazon bio has him living with his wife and cats in London.
Rudi is an Estonian who would badly like to become a chef/cook with his own restaurant.  But fairly quickly into our story he is pegged as an ideal runner for a latter day Les Coureurs des Bois who are an odd non-state secret service that runs messages and peoples across the now highly fragmented and guarded borders of Europe.  Much of the story comes across as a somewhat futuristic John LeCarre novel featuring all sorts of mundane spy operations.  It is only fairly late into the book, that a plot line comes together that begins to bring many of the earlier threads back into focus and tie them together.
Eventually, a full secret spy war explodes on the scene and bodies begin to stack up.  An element of highly speculative science fiction does come into play fairly late in the tale.  This does throw off a little bit the general gritty, natural feel of the proceedings, but not in such an extreme way as to ruin what preceded.
A bigger failing is that as we get to crunch time, the author begins to skimp on some of the more interesting details of the spy craft.  An odd choice to go through endless, if tense, details of the waiting periods, and then rush through the active stage. 

In all, I did enjoy it.  The spy novel stuff was fun, even if it got twisted in with a bit of sci-fi weirdness at the end.  Call it a qualified recommendation.  The feel of the novel is of a cold war espionage novel set to a science fictional near future alternate setting:  All right as a spy thriller, so-so as either apocalyptic, or science fiction fare.
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 high in the sense that all of this occurs in a world not too far down the road from our own, but low because of the highly speculative nature of some of the science fiction near the end.  There is an element of fuzziness and confusion that does a fairly good job of being much like the fog we live in.  It is a 5.
Readability is a bit harder to define.  There are no doubt all sorts of secondary allusions within the story that can be missed.  It helps to know a lot of obscure, to Americans at least, European factoids to get all the in-jokes.  At the barest level, it is a rather long (429 pp.) telling of a simple plot: a 3.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Red Hill: A Review

Jamie McGuire's Red Hill is set in a series of small towns, and the Red Hills of Kansas, as a small group of loosely associated people attempt to escape from a zombie apocalypse. These are slow (between walk and jog pace) zombies, who procreate by biting, but seem to have gotten their initial boost through a doctored up flu vaccine.  It is a standalone novel, and I am not aware of any planned sequels.  I "read" the audio version of the book.

Jamie McGuire was born in Tulsa, and raised in Blackwell, OK. She attended the Northern Oklahoma College, the University of Central Oklahoma, and Autry Technology Center where she graduated with a degree in Radiography. 
She now lives in Enid, OK on a thirty acre ranch with her three children and husband Jeff, who is a a cowboy.  Like Scarlett, one of her major characters, she has red hair (see photo below), two daughters and is a radiologist.  As she notes in an an interview, Scarlet is a bit of an alter ego:
I came up with the story two years ago when I was in X-ray school. I was in classes or clinic 40 hours a week, so I cleaned houses for the doctors to get by financially. One of the doctors had a ranchette an hour and a half away from school, in the middle of nowhere. I thought it would be the perfect place to escape to if the threat of zombies ever became real. I’m a huge The Walking Dead fan, and my oldest daughter and I have eleventy billion zombie escape plans. Every time I went out there to clean, I thought about that story, and what it would be like if my daughters were with their father during the first day of the apocalypse. How would they get to me?
Her earlier, very successful, novels had more of a YA-romance theme, so this novel was pointedly a change.

As to the location of the story, although the town names are fictionalized, the location is in a series of small to very small towns of Oklahoma, and then later a ranch just over the border in Kansas.

Based on the rhyming pneumonic (paraphrased below) that Scarlett's daughter made up:
West on Highway 11 - North on Highway 123 - Cross the border - Left at the white tower - Left at the cemetery - First right!  - Red Hill Road !
and the mutterings of one of the other protagonists, Nathan,
Less than a half hour down the road, I noticed a small sign that read Highway 123. Another small two-lane, it ran all the way to Kansas.  It was less than an hour away, and if I remembered correctly from where were the state line. Beyond that was nothing but farmland and ranch land for miles…

I don’t see an area that fits the exact geographic details of the story, but given the location of the Red Hills of Kansas, which lie along the central Southern border of Kansas with Oklahoma, we are likely about 70 west of the Wichita/Oklahoma City longitude (North-South) line, getting somewhat close to the Oklahoma pan-handle.  My guess is north of Buffalo, OK along Route 183.  The town of Anderson may use the authoress' current hometown of Enid as its (very rough) basis.
This is a lot of relatively flat open land.  It means that zombies that are walking around will be able to see a long way, and travel will be tough.
The narration jumps between three groups of characters.  A mid-30s divorced mother, Scarlette, who is trying to find her children (it's Dad's weekend) and get them to the Red Hill Ranch that is owned by a doctor she works for.  The second group is a young father with his young special needs daughter. Finally a group of four teenagers. The two girls in this group being the Doctor's daughters. 

All of them are looking for safety, and variously run across each other in passing as they separately make their escape.  Although the novel slightly overuses coincidental occurrences as plot devices, their coming together is no more coincidental than any story of how people from different backgrounds come to be in the same place - think of your typical workplace.
The novel doesn't seem like it at first, but is much more deadly to its heroes than your typical zombie-fare.  Lots of major characters bite the dust.  The death of likable bit players is the norm in zombie fare, but we're talking major players here.  The author, obviously likes strong female leads, but not all the women are titans of fortitude, and they are not super SWAT team types either.
The authoress is familiar with guns, which is good, but a little light on the specifics.  Glocks don't have a safety that disarms the trigger (the safety is within the trigger mechanism), a feature now copied by other manufacturers.  More to the point,  she underestimates how difficult it is to make a killing headshot.  Shooting a living person from the front only gives a 3x5 postcard size area for an instant kill.  And with zombies, shooting off their jaw or cheekbone, may not stop them.

On the plus side, most of the very heavily armed characters bolt action rifles, with a relatively small magazine: hunting rifles.  This tends  to slow up their engagement speeds, and you don't get that light auto-carbine fire hose of death effect of some other novels.
Supplies are more of an issue than in many Z-stories.  There is not a presumption of easy looting.  The zombies are too large in numbers, and even in the smaller towns, are too dangerous to just wander around pillaging.    The Red Hill Ranch, where the characters are trying to bug-out to,  is thus that device common to many apocalyptic novels, of that conveniently under utilized, ubber-stocked bugout shelter left to the characters disposal.  My suspicion is, that since a lot of folks. and authors, are not kindly disposed to survivalists, it allows the author to have a bug out/survivalist story with normal folks in the action.

There is a lot more depth to the group dynamics than typical.  One person, making very questionable, possibly selfish, decisions, can drive the group towards very risky actions.  And the end results are not sugar coated.  If there is a little bit of the "all's well that ends well" at the end of the story, the reader is not forced to buy into that thinking, and it is easy enough to note the people missing people.

The issues with the characters past, ex-spouses in particular, don't just drop by the wayside when the ball drops.  The trauma and psychology of children in a disaster is not ignored.  Rather than just some talking bits of furniture dragged around through the story, the children, and parental concerns, are main drivers of much of the story line.

I did enjoy the novel, and would recommend it.  It is a relatively rare zombie novel that goes enough beyond the boundaries of the genre that I think a more general audience would enjoy it.  It is not perfect, the occasional, not really necessary coincidence, is pulled out of the hat a few too many times, and cuts into the suspension of disbelieve occasional.  The peppy tone of the ending brings the story to a conclusion, and truncates the storyline at a manageable point, even leaving a few looming items up in the air, but doesn't fit particularly well with the rest of the tone.  Calling the last chapter an epilogue, rather than simply leaving it as the last chapter, was a poor choice.  But those are quibbles.  I am not sure if this one is going to become a classic of the genre, but it certainly is one of the better ones I have read.

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.

As zombie-fare go, it is fairly realistic.  Although the zombies themselves cut into the ongoing realism, the other various issues of survivalism, firepower, bad people getting loose, group dynamics, and extraneous emotional baggage within group dynamics are all there.  I think the supply issue needed to be pushed a tad bit harder.  At some point, there should have been a statement as to just how much food they have on hand, and the water without electricity issue was noted, but didn't seem that clearly resolved.  It is a five.

Readability is straightforward.  It is not a page turner, but the group dynamics, and personal issues are very well balanced with the high danger action points.  In the case of the audio version, it did not use a "radio" style delivery with special effects and different character voices, but the narrative voice did change between the three main characters.  It is a 6.

Jamie McGuire

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Logan's Run: A Review

William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson 1967 classic, Logan's Run, is a dystopian post-apocalyptic novel where the world is overseen by a computer superbrain that (somewhat) takes care of everyone's needs, but also insures that nobody lives past their 21st birthday.  The original was intended as a standalone.  But after the release of the movie, with its greatly changed storyline, Nolan wrote a number of other stories in the series.  I "read" the recent audio version.

Both authors had a fair number of published works, many of them with speculative themes.  Logan's Run is by far their most famous novel. William F. Nolan wrote many more works, but  George Clayton  Johnson had a number of interesting highlights: author of the first Star Trek episode (The Man Trap), wrote the story that became the basis for the movie Oceans 11, and also wrote the "lost" Twilight Zone episode.
In this alternate far future, society is a mostly carefree place where people work a little and play a lot.  With most of the actual work done through automation, most people-work is of a rather light touch.  One extreme exception is the Sandmen.  These are the men who hunt down the runners. And Logan3 is a Sandman.
Runners are the folks who don't want all the fun to end on their 21st birthday, and take off running to avoid their fate.  As the novel explains, the hard limit on living to the age of 20 years and 364 days came about as a solution to combined problems of world overpopulation, and the youth bulge of the baby boomers (not called that in the novel).  So the dystopia is all the boomer's fault.
The twist is that, Logan3, the Sandman, decides to become a runner himself.  Logan's flight involves a number of highly episodic adventures as he makes his way to a hoped for, somewhat legendary, sanctuary.  He meets up with Jessica, also a runner, very early on.  She of the great beauty and heaving bosom, plays a much more promising and active part than most heroines of this time period.  With  Logan being the  trained killers and survivalist, she is often ignored and overlooked, and manages to save the situation more than a few times. 
As the novel progresses, it is obvious that this Utopian-Dystopia's automated controls are slowly falling apart.  That, and the episodic adventures among strange folks, gives the novel a little bit of the whimsical feel of  Jack Vance's (earlier) Dying Earth series. Granted Logan and Jessica are more sympathetic, and there is a little more linkage (key words "a little") between the stories, but it all seems rather melancholy and a bit surreal.
It should be noted that many folks in the past would have rated the novel more highly than the famous movie.  Now that the movie has become a camp-classic, the favor-balance between the two is more even.  Both are a little dated, but fun in their own way.  I did like the novel, though I think Nolan's statement that is a multi-layered story is a bit dubious.
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.
This is not a particularly realistic novel.  It is set in a highly improbable distant future.  I would give it a one except that most of the science doesn't stray that insanely far away from what we have to day, and their is no blatant magic as in the Dying Earth sagas.  It is a 2.
Readability is easy.  It is mostly a page turner through most of its relatively short (149 pages) length.  I gather most think the movie moves faster, but the novel isn't too far behind.  It is a six.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DMQZ: A Review

Quinn Fleming's DMQZ is a post-apocalyptic novel set in dystopian remnant of the United States with a number of small urban remnant enclaves holding out in a world ravaged by engineered diseases. The action takes place on the orderly, but tightly controlled, Manhattan Island within what once was the Greater New York City.  Initially planned as a trilogy, the sequel to the novel is in the works. It is arguable whether this novel is sufficiently self contained to be considered stand alone, a somewhat annoying issue for a novel that does not bill itself as part of a series.

Quinn Flemming (1982-) per his official bio was born and raised in Maine, and is currently living in New York City. Based on the author's blog, he appears to be far more interested in the medium of television , than the novelistic world.
The blurb goes like this:
In the wake of the global pandemic known as the "little dormouse," the line between the Safe Zone and the Quarantine Zone divides New York City. The shores and waters of the East River are the "DMQZ," the uninhabited area that separates uninfected Manhattan from the slowly dying borough of Brooklyn.
Jacob Hale is a Manhattan police officer rising in the ranks of the Safe Zone military government until a bank heist gone wrong lands him on suspension and under suspicion. On a quest to clear his good name, Hale finds himself drawn into a web of conspiracy, terrorism, and revolt - and into the orbit of a mysterious woman who may be the key to it all.
Which makes it all sound a lot more like a high suspense mystery, when really it is lot more of an action adventure novel than anything else.  Granted it is set up to be something of a mystery-suspense, but the plot line pretty much follows a connect the dots path, and their is a lot more interest in the (at times sci-fi fanciful) action sequences.

Did I like it?  Some of the middle portions of the book, where the hero is chasing down a mysterious, beautiful woman, who he thinks is the leader of the bank robbers, is interesting.  But it just falls apart into comic book like action scenes.  But fatally, it is a relatively slow moving comic book.  If it kept moving, you wouldn't have time to see through all the holes in the plot, or you might be entertained enough to not care.  But it doesn't, so you do.  I don't recommend it.

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 roughly equivalent to a Judge Dredd comic.
Judge Dredd for comparison purposes
So no, its not even remotely realistic.  The science fiction is fanciful, and the logic of the whole dystopian society is very sketchy.  It's a 1.

Readability is tougher in that it is a slow moving action adventure, with what little subtlety it had in the middle ranges of the novel, being washed away by the cartoonish final sequences.  It is a 4.

DMQZ map (link)