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The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

by Cormac McCarthy

The author uses words like Monet applies brush strokes. Mr. McCarthy takes ordinary scenes, frames them in unusual perspectives and creates a story that is both beautiful and horrific. I admit that I am not objective when it comes to his works as he is my favorite author. A movie based on this book was released, but I'm a little hesitant to watch it for fear of what it may do to this great story. Before I do so, I wish to get my thoughts down.

This IS great literature. It may be hard to grasp at first, if The Road is your first book of his. You'll have to get used to his unusual style, especially the fact that he doesn't use quotation marks. You'll be wondering if a line was spoken out loud or even who said it. I implore you to stick it out, though, as it will be worth your while. The fact that you are forced to think about what's written, rather than mindlessly plowing through the pages, gets you into the story. With your mind thus engaged, you'll gain greater insight.

Beyond being a great TEotWaWKI story, this also appears to be a personal allegory for the author. Mr. McCarthy is an elderly man with a very young son. I could not help but see those two at times in this story. But I do not wish to delve into the literary aspects of the book, this review will focus on the lessons for end of the world survival: food, security and the philosophy of survival.

Despite all of the horrors in the Zombie Wars, the lack of food was never more than a short term problem, except for those in the far north during that first winter. Everyone experienced hunger at one time or another, sometimes quite severe. But the fact that the catastrophe was not an environmental one and the greatly reduced human population (at least the non-undead), meant that as long as you were able to devote time to the effort, you'd be able to find sustenance. I cannot imagine ALWAYS wondering when my next meal would occur. Heck, even the thought that there was a finite supply of food that will run out eventually would drive me insane.

The food situation in The Road directly impacts the state of one's security. EVERYONE realizes there's only so much food. All bets are off. It's not just a matter of protecting your own supply, but you, too, could be considered food. This is different than dealing with zombies. First, you cannot form large groups. Even if you tried, they would tear apart during the first lengthy period without food. Second, you have to be constantly on the move. You will either exhaust the local food supply or others will learn how good you have it. It must be difficult to walk away from food that you cannot easily carry. Finally, what do you do when the food truly does run out?

That final reckoning, I believe, is the major TEotWaWKI point made in this book. What is the point of survival? It becomes extremely difficult to argue with those who want to end it all. Why struggle and suffer when everyone's going to starve to death or meet with a brutally violent end anyways? This was an issue during our catastrophe. I knew a number of people who swallowed a bullet rather than deal with the world as it now is. I took everyone of those as a betrayal. But in The Road? I don't know.

Read this book and think good and hard. What is the point of it all? I did not fight the Zombie War just so I could return to a life where I worried about making my credit card payments.

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Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

Think back to long before the zombie outbreak and war. How would you have reacted if someone told you there was a one in a million chance that zombies would over run the planet in 6 months? You would have laughed, wouldn't you? What if that someone was an authoritative source and she then said it's a one in a thousand chance that it will happen in one month? Even if you had listened and taken steps to prepare, given what you knew then, what could you have done? It is a dilemma similar to this that the authors document in Lucifer's Hammer.

This is another of the old school TEotWaWKI books I told you about about, this one written in the late Seventies. The end of the world mechanism in this case, though, is a comet. Despite that, the lessons the authors impart are perfectly applicable to any real world case. The differences lay in how that catastrophe played itself out. The amount of time between the start and SHTF was measured in minutes for many, hours at the most. And the catastrophe came in three waves: the initial blast, earthquake and tsunami; then the torrential rain that lasted for weeks; and, finally, the complete breakdown of civilized society.

First, there is the issue of how to prepare. In the book, as in real life, people chose a variety of paths: do nothing, flailing about or actually thinking this through. Given that the window for reaction was extremely short, it shouldn't be surprising that most didn't prepare or did so in a panicky manner. I loved the lady would bought a bunch of frozen food. But even for the ones who approached this rationally, what would have been the right thing to do? Most died in the cataclysm that no preparation could have prevented. Those who survived the initial calamity were presented with a completely different world: seas where none existed before, no law enforcement to prevent others from taking your stuff (or your life), transportation network in shambles. There was no way to truly ride this out because you could not predict where parts of the comet would land. Even if you could, preparation would have required a large group of united people on a large piece of productive and protected land with a large amount of supplies stashed away. Again, the chances of TEotWaWKI in this case were quite miniscule, but the preparation required to survive massive and unreliable.

The second relevant issue that the book discusses is how the human mind coped with the disaster. The lessons Lawrence Gonzales chronicled in Deep Survival play out in this story. A good proportion of those who lived through the comet's impact lacked the mental faculty to continue living or at least operating within the new environment. This event required you to radically alter your mental map of the world. Starvation became a real threat, both short and long term. You could not rely on the kindness of strangers. Truly, when you yourself could very easily go hungry in a month, how willing would you be to give a portion of your food stash to someone who cannot reciprocate? It's a sad fact, but a harsh reality. Most starved, especially the elderly and the very young, those who couldn't contribute. Others turned to cannibalism, which itself, though staving off immediate hunger, led to other issues such as the spread of disease and the horror it inspires in others.

The final issue is, as this story clearly demonstrates, that politics abhors a power vacuum. If you do not take steps to fill the leadership void, someone will and you may not like the results. Just ask Cesar Millan. You cannot just hope that things will work out. If you are not willing to step up, then you should find someone to whom you are willing to submit and work your ass off to ensure that you both prevail.

I will discuss further how this story plays out in the TEotWaWKI life cycle after the jump, but there will be SPOILERS.

...continue reading "TEotWaWKI Book Review: Lucifer’s Hammer"

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I was at a birthday feast for that old geezer Javi. I kid! He's 5 years younger than me, but I'm far better looking. We go way back, having served together in the final clearing operations on the east coast.

Anyways, we were all digging into some excellent Rognons de Veau like it was our last meal. — That's veal kidneys for you philistines out there. — I noted that, in the old days, this probably wouldn't have been on the menu since most people turned their noses up at offal. In fact, I commented, there does not seem to be any picky eaters or even vegetarians these days. Well, what a conversation that sparked! Several interesting tidbits came out of this.

First, about half the people present claimed to be former picky eaters, one was even a vegan, but they changed their habits out of necessity. If survival means having to eat that piece of cow liver, you will hold your nose and do it. For many, their dietary restrictions were a result of not wanting to try new stuff. They discovered that most formerly avoided foods were actually quite good.

Second, and most surprising, several at the table new of people who died as an indirect result of their pickiness. It was never a direct choice of death over okra. Rather, having passed up nutritious oddities, they either didn't have the strength when it was needed or took ill. Their inability to master the gag reflex cost them their lives.

Finally, the conversation ended when I asked if anyone partook of human flesh. All quickly said no, but there were a few downcast eyes and talk changed to the upcoming home stand of the Rappahannock Raiders.

For the record, I never ate people. However, I was never in a position where my life depended on that choice. I don't think I'd have a problem doing it. I will eat anything. And I am a leg man. I'd get hung up, though, on how to ethically harvest that food.