Stephen King is the go to guy when you want a great TEotWaWKI story. I have reviewed The Mist and I need to so for The Stand, which I haven't read that since pre-SHTF days. That is the granddaddy of all end-of-the-world stories. I figured his novel Cell wouldn't disappoint.
I was wrong. I don't want to say this book is bad. I really respect Mr. King. This is also his first book after his horrific car accident. It is still infinitely better than anything I could write. Let's just say that it's not his best book, but it has it's moments.
The opening grabs you right away. You barely have time to absorb the ordinary world before he brings it crashing down via cells phones that corrupt callers' brains, driving them into homicidal rages. This is Stephen King at his best:
Pass the test of immediate survival, but just barely.
Assemble a small group and seek shelter.
Figure out what the fuck to do now.
I'm lapping this up as it's classic TEotWaWKI story-telling, but then we hit some speed bumps. The writing's not that good. It feels rushed, lacking an editor's touch. I may be unusual in this way, but these kind of mistakes begin to affect my ability to suspend disbelief. Some of the story flaws begin to nibble at me:
Driving is a task that can rarely be accomplished because the roads are all clogged. I'm not buying this. Sure, there will be clots of vehicles, and you may have to drive off to the side, but I cannot imagine it would severely restrict you to the level represented in the book. At least that wasn't my personal experience during the outbreak.
The "zombies" behaved weirdly. I can't go into detail on this since it would involve serious spoilers, but this ultimately killed it for me.
I'm not saying there aren't worthwhile lessons. He was correct to point out that obtaining one or more fire arms is a top priority. Also, group cohesion is extremely important. There are times when you'll need to subordinate your desires for the good of the group. Truly, though, you're better off reading some of his other works. My apologies, Mr. King.
When most people think of the end of the world, images of the recent zombie wars flood the mind. Understandably so since we lost nearly 90% of the world's population. What people seem to forget, though, is that TEotWaWKI is a regular, albeit infrequent occurrence, from world-wide cataclysms to local events. The American Plague is a good example of the latter end of this spectrum as it delves into the Yellow Fever epidemic that swept through Memphis in 1878.
Consider the following from page 64*:
A number of nurses, doctors, ministers or nuns later wrote of the fear that accompanied them the first time they entered an infected home. They had nursed hundreds from the halls of sick wards, but it was something else all together to climb the steps of a porch and open a door with a yellow card swinging from a nail. The first thing to strike was the smell. It floated in the streets, a scent like rotting hay. The smell grew stronger and overpowering once the front door was opened, where it mingled with the soiled sheets, sweat and vomit. Inside, one never knew what to expect. Moans, cries, delirious screams, or worse, no sound at all. There was darkness, as windows were boarded shut, and there was the stagnant heat of imprisoned air. Then, as their eyes focused, they saw the bodies. At first, it was hard to tell which ones were living and where were not. If deceased, one could never know how long they had been that way or in what condition they would be.
Sound familiar? It gave me the chills. (Is that a headache I feel?) The similarities don't end there:
Effective quarantine procedures had been in place, but they were rescinded several years before because it would, as the author wrote on page 48, "create panic, stifling river traffic and delaying cotton shipments." Money always wins out over safety.
There were gangs roving through the city, robbing the homes of the defenseless infected.
Many did not die as a direct result of the disease, but rather of other causes exacerbated by the outbreak such as starvation and dehydration.
This happened before the dead rose and it will happen again. Be prepared!
* This and other quotes are from the September 2007 Berkley trade paperback edition of the book which is available from Amazon.com.
This book is a rant written by a very angry man in a world that had yet to experience TEotWaWKI. His rage seems to get in the way of his arguments. (Good thing he didn't know what was coming, how we handled zombies would have caused him a stroke.) Thing is, he makes some very good points, but they're buried in his rambling prose. I much preferred his World Made by Hand — a book I strongly recommend.
I previous reviewed A Canticle for Leibowitz in which the end of the world is instant and massively violent. If you survived the nuclear war, it was obvious there was no going back. Mr. Kunstler, though, posits a world where the end is gradual and not at all obvious. Remember the beginnings of the zombie outbreak? Denial was strong through the first week or so. It took actual assault by the undead for people to wake up to the new reality and, yet, even that didn't work for some. But the removal of the underpinnings of the pre-SHTF world — cheap petroleum — would have taken years if not decades to complete. The process described in The Unthinkable clearly apply here:
Denial: People didn't want to believe that oil was going away. Oh, sure, it will happen eventually, but by then the free market will produce something to replace it such as hydrogen or solar power.
Deliberation: Once it was accepted that the days of cheap oil were behind us, the thinking went haywire. There were wars to secure supplies, attempts to invent something in a hurry (only to realize that it, too, would need vast inputs of petroleum), and don't forget the blame. The finger was pointed at everything from ungodly behavior to communist subversion.
The Decisive Moment: Well, we never got to that point. The zombies rendered it moot. As the Chinese say: It's a truly ill wind that blows everyone evil. Reducing the human population by 90% did have some benefits.
I can't exactly recommend The Long Emergency. If you have the patience, the nuggets you glean are worthwhile, but you're better off reading World Made by Hand.
I have to be careful how I say this or I might come across as one who enjoys the end of the world: If the world must end, the swiftness and violence of TeoTWaWKI can be a blessing. You have no choice but to accept the fact that the world as you knew it is no longer. When the destruction is so complete and return impossible, you can look to the task at hand. Such is the case in A Canticle for Leibowitz.
This masterfully written novel posits a world in which we infer a nuclear exchange wiped out civilization sometime in the mid-20th century. The story is broken up into 3 parts taking place 300, 600 and 1,200 years post-SHTF. Unlike most stories I've reviewed here, you do not see what happens during the crisis, only after stability has returned. And the fact that we're dealing in centuries should tell you the extent of the damage that occurred, that we're talking sociological far more than physical infrastructure.
Nothing had been so hateful in the sight of these mobs as the man of learning, at first because they had served the princes, but then later because they refused to join the bloodletting and tried to oppose the mobs, calling the crowds "bloodthirsty simpletons."
A common mistake for pre-SHTF planners is to assume reasoned behavior on the part of survivors, that even violent behavior would be guided by a rational sense of survival. That has consistently proven to not be the case. Beware the man who is having difficulty redrawing his mental map, especially if his is armed. You cannot appeal to his senses. You best get out of his way. Woe to the land over-run by a mob of such people.
The thon's gaze seemed to clamp calipers on the abbot's cranium and measure it six ways.
One other aspect of end of the world scenarios that this book covers well is that of scope. There is the short term: how do I survive the crisis? Then there is the long term: I have survived, now what? This book deals in the epochal, survival not just of a man, but of mankind. There are three stages to this process:
Archive the Knowledge: Gather everything from the old world, wherever you may find it.
Protect the Knowledge: Both from enemies who would seek to destroy it as well as time that would corrupt and erode it.
Disseminate the Knowledge: When the time is right, release it back into society so that it may help humanity to grow and prosper.
I highly recommend this book. The characters are engaging and the issues raised provoke much thought after you done reading. Compared to the world the author describes, I feel we got of light. What's a horde of zombies compared to full scale nuclear war?
This book changed my life. I realize people think me a curmudgeon and I'll cop to that charge. I take my undead seriously and have witnessed the grisly result of those who don't. I see nothing funny about them. So it may come as a surprise to some to learn that I enjoyed this book, found it to be a worthwhile read. Let me explain.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been sitting in my To Read pile for quite sometime (I mentioned this about a year ago). The reviews made the book seem lighthearted. Not at all, the authors clearly show in serious tones what life is like in a world over-run by the living dead.
What makes this a great piece of fiction is that the zombies are not central to the story. I found myself more concerned about Mr. Darcy's boorish behavior than how best to dispatch a ghoul with a katana sword. Perhaps this is best, because what is covered leaves me wondering about the authors. One of them seems not to realize that the musket is a weapon, even in the hands of an experienced user, that can fire only 3 rounds a minute. That's a recipe for disaster. I'd stick with older technologies, like the battle ax or halberd. But then, I've never had proper training in the Asian martial arts. Maybe they provide courses in flint lock fire arms.
So, yes, read this book. Enjoy this book. And demand of other authors that they focus on the story rather than on how they can make their undead more outlandish. Oh, and don't forget, my daughter comes from a fine family, has impeccable manners and is second to none with the machete.
I almost didn't read this, didn't feel I needed to. After all, I survived an unthinkable that was inconceivable to the author when she wrote this book. Also, I have absorbed Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales into my DNA. I didn't believe that Ms. Ripley could add anything useful. I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn that I was wrong.
From My point of view, The Unthinkable provides insight that differs from Deep Survival in two general ways. First, the later focuses exclusively on individuals and how they interact with their environment, while Ms. Ripley widens her focus to include that of groups large and small. Second — and this addresses my initial thoughts regarding the book's utility going forward — The Unthinkable, I find, is a great tool to allow me to understand what happened during the catastrophe rather than as a guide for my actions in the future. That's not to say this couldn't be useful for those in the future who did not live through the Zombie War.
Ms. Ripley's thesis is that there are three mental stages one goes through in a crisis: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. This matches my experiences, personally, and what I witnessed in others over and over again, from the outbreak all the way through the War. The author talks about this in two stages: dealing first with your immediate situation, then the realization that the world at large is affected, too. Think 9/11 and an escape from the World Trade Center only to find that you aren't yet safe from the collapsing towers. My personal experiences are similar to others who survived and I probably cycled through that process a dozen times in the first week alone.
This was the primary cause of death during the outbreak. How could pre-SHTF folks possibly deal with the dead rising? And what if that zombie was a loved one? I'm surprised anyone survived. But that was just the beginning. How many people were in denial that their fellow survivors could be more dangerous than the zombies? How about that first winter? It felt like each succeeding crisis made it harder to move beyond the denial stage.
This is where The Unthinkable complements the work of Mr. Gonzales. One's ability to keep your mental map in sync with reality goes along way to predicting who gets out of denial quicker and able to act effectively.
This is the critical step. Once you accept that the shit has hit the fan, what do you do? Unlike the crises detailed in the book, we had to think in the long run. It wasn't enough just to get through the immediate situation, you had to also think of shelter, food and rest. It was too easy to let that slide in the name of hasty escape only to ensure you eventual death.
Another factor in deliberation is that most people were unable to get through this stage alone. They needed someone to lead them through it. I fear I was not always the person I wish to be during this stage. I didn't always help those in need. It's not hard to find an excuse in a crisis: I need to get to my family, I have only enough food for me, etc. And there was once or twice where someone snapped me out of it in time. Ms. Ripley talks of heroes being a rare breed, but our situation was long enough, replete with plenty of opportunities, that I dare say everyone, at one time or another, was both a hero and a villain.
The Decisive Moment
If denial gets harder to shake off over time, the ability to act gets easier. The less you have to think about it, the likelier it will happen. How this played out varied greatly with the type of crisis you faced, but there was one commonality: suicide. From beginning until even today, years after the end of the War, suicide seems like the only viable option to some. I've talked about this before, my feelings are known, so I won't discuss it here.
Think of this book as a call to action. You cannot blithely go on about life as if nothing bad will happen. You need to be mentally prepared. I'm not saying you should live in constant fear. I am suggesting that it couldn't hurt to always be aware of your surroundings and to at least play out certain scenarios in your head. You don't want the first time you think about escape to be when your life depends upon it.
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.
[Updated to remove reference to my no longer used Star Rating system.]
Are you ready for the end of the world? Truly, right now, if it happened, would you be prepared? It's one thing to talk and write about it, but another to experience it. We are better equipped today to handle this than we were pre-SHTF, but only because we have experienced the end of the world and survived. And when ours occurred, it started slowly, like a brush fire. We had days, or at least hours, to grok what was happening and take steps to deal with it. But what if it came out of the blue? Suppose your first inkling of the undead was a zombie battering down the conference room door during your weekly status meeting? I bet you wouldn't be here today.
Stephen King, a famous writer from before World War Z, wrote a piece of fiction that masterfully addresses this issue: The Mist, part of his collection of short stories titled Skeleton Crew. It has recently been made into a movie directed by Frank Darabont. I am covering both instances of this story in a single review because there is very little substantive difference between the two.
WARNING: Here there be spoilers!
The trigger is the eponymous mist that envelops the town as cover for, or perhaps the cause of, a range of otherworldly creatures that seek to end the world as we know it. Luck is the first variable that determines who survives. No matter how well prepared you might be, physically and mentally, if you are caught in the wrong place, you're dead. Even if you weren't, though, this would have been a difficult event to cope with emotionally. I dare say few would be able to redraw their mental maps in order to account for a bestiary that ranges from vulture-sized creatures with a poisonous sting to enormous, many legged monsters capable of crushing buildings. As in Mr. King's story, most would go insane.
Another issue dealt with masterfully here is how to pace yourself. If you are able to estimate how long an event might last, you could ration your energy and supplies to get you to that point. But when you have no clue, this becomes impossible. Is it a matter of hours, days or even years? You can't live minute-to-minute that way. You'll exhaust yourself and fall pray to an otherwise avoidable mistake. In the story, the question of whether or not one should leave the sanctuary of the store continuously arises. The place is an excellent location in which to hole up: you have plenty of supplies and, after a certain amount of work, it's reasonably secure. It won't last forever, though. Either your supplies or patience will run out. If only you know how long until it might be over. This is a key question for everyone who faces a TEotWaWKI event. It drives everything from when to seek shelter to when to abandon it. The tragic ending of the movie version – one of the few places where it differs from the short story – clearly demonstrates the problem of pacing one's self.
Finally, and most importantly, is the question of leadership. As demonstrated in Lucifer's Hammer, you cannot avoid this issue. Somebody will become alpha, it's just a question of who. It's in your best interest to ensure that this person is on your side. There are two characters in The Mist who step up to fill the leadership void, none of whom I'd want to be my alpha. The first, Brent Norton, is a man who couldn't redraw his mental map. He refused to believe in the danger that his eyes plainly told him existed. As a result, he lead several people to their deaths in a misguided attempt to seek help. The second, Mrs. Carmody, clearly saw that the events matched her world view: God is punishing us for our sins. I do not believe you could have done anything about the first, Brent was dead set on his path. The religious nut, however, would not have had an audience to sway to her point of view if someone else offered a viable alternative. If no one else is filling the void, you should step up.
Overall, I highly recommend this story, both in video and textual form. It is well written and acted. You will be entertained. It also clearly demonstrates lessons you need to learn should you be confronted with yet another end of the world scenario. Beware, though, of the fantastical nature of the harbinger of doom in this story. As something so different from real life experiences, I fear people will ignore any lessons it has to offer. If I could go back in time and warn the world about the impending zombie outbreak, I certainly wouldn't say a word about the undead. I would be ignored. Instead, I'd describe the zombies as infected, perhaps rabid, humans who have gone insane, leading them to murderous acts. This, at least, is something people back then could have grasped and dealt with.
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.
I have a stack of old school TEotWaWKI books written long before SHTF. If this book is any indicator of quality, I'm in for a long haul if I follow through on my intention to read them all. My problems with this book lie not just in the advice offered, but primarily in the fact that the characters are extremely boring.
The author posits a world brought to its knees by a virus. The main character, Isherwood Williams, was laid low by a snake bite when the pandemic swept away most of mankind, so he was not around to witness the unfolding catastrophe. Upon recovery, he stumbles through the world like a drunk waking up from an epic bender. The book follows him as he embarks on an odyssey from California to New York and then back to the west coast, where he settles and lives out the remaining decades of his life. The only reason I did not toss this book unfinished, is that I found the window into 1950s America to be fascinating, if somewhat repugnant.
First of all, do NOT look to this book for advice. You will find nothing here worthwhile. Some of the lessons taught:
Canned food lasts forever, so don't bother with farming or hunting/gathering.
Do not look to the library for reference material should you actually set out to improve your life. A real man can figure it out on his own.
Whatever you do, do not accept the mentally defective into your group. If you are stuck with one, you should kill or run the person off.
Ish would frequently give impassioned speeches about something that they must do, but there would be no follow up. As long as folks' immediate needs were being met, nobody did anything to improve their future prospects. For example, the water flowed freely from everyone's faucets: fine, dandy, what do we need to worry about? Water mains start breaking: no problems, some people still get water. Slowly but surely, their options dwindled until they were forced to gather water from streams. This process was repeated time and again with food, shelter and other necessities. No wonder their civilization ceased to exist.
To call this anti-intellectualism would be to imply an active opposition to thought. It is true the they discouraged their children from reading too much because it might make them think too much. For the most part, though, it was just laziness. Combine this with their opposition to anything sensual and you have a recipe for death by ennui. In addition to the above mentioned lack of desire for good food, sex was only for procreation. Anyone who seemed to exhibit desire, was castigated, labelled a bad person.
It's a wonder, given this window into life half a century before the true end of the world, that we didn't experience it much soon.