Book – “Lucifer’s Hammer”

There are two books that I consider to be absolute classics in terms of ‘survival fiction’. The first is ‘Alas babylon’, the other is ‘Lucifers Hammer’. (LH)

LH is a very polished story, which is a change from most survivalist fiction where you can tell the writer really didn’t have much experience in writing (and editing). It’s reminiscent of ‘The Stand’ in terms of setting up layers of backstory before finally getting to the actual end-of-the-world. The cast of characters is fairly broad at the beginning of the book but, much like real life, the list narrows down as attrition takes it’s toll…and some characters just face into the background never to be heard from again.

The premise is one that you don’t see to often in this genre: a comet passes close to the earth and fragments strike the planet. Enormous tsunamis wipe out coastal regions, redraw continental maps, kick huge amounts of debris into the atmosphere, and generally turn the entire planet into a sodden, dark, cold mess.

The story follows the paths of people from a wide disparate group of lifestyles… a cop, secretary, senator, scientist, playboy, rancher, astronaut, criminal, etc, etc. Are the usual survivalist tropes present? Absolutely…but pretty much because this is the book that started those tropes. The cannibal armies, plucky survivors banding together, huge ‘final battle’, etc, etc….all there. LH is the source that is referred to when later survivalist fiction gets described as ‘derivative of’. (For example, the end of ‘One Second After’ and the end of LH are very, very similar.

People who are used to the fast-moving pace of some of the shorter survivalist-books may lose interest in the character development that takes up the first third of this rather lengthy book. If you can stick with it, the backstories enhance the rest of the book.

Are there things in the book that would make the average survivalist sit up and say “Hmm…I hadn’t thought of that?” I believe so. I would say that its as realistic a story as you can have on a topic that many people say would be very unrealistic.

LH is a book I recommend to people who enjoy the genre, but are not new to it. It’s a bit intimidating in terms of length, and a tad slow paced at the beginning, but I think if a person sticks to it and gets through to the actual disaster part of the book it becomes a wonderful read.

You can usually find a used copy in most used book stores. It’s an enjoyable read for people who want a more in-depth and well-rounded story than many of the ‘shallower’ stories that are out there. Nothing wrong with the ‘light reading’ survivalist fiction (cough*Ahern*cough) but sometimes you want something a little more than just shoot-em-ups and gear porn.

LH came out in 1977, which was right around the era of high inflation, expensive gas, and Soviet expansionism…and it shows in the book. But even if it is a little dated it is still a good read if you’re after a book that has a bit more substance.

Available from the usual sources.

Book review – The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

So this showed up in my mailbox a couple weeks ago:

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

Short version: Worth the read.

Longer version:

Post-apocalyptic fiction is a tough nut to crack. You either go with guns and cannibals, like pretty much everything written since ‘Lucifers Hammer’ or you try to give a less ‘action movie’ apocalypse and deal more with day to day stuff like ‘Alas Babylon’. Some fiction tries to promote an agenda or belief, some just wants a body count. But regardless of the style of apocalypse, if it isn’t well-written no amount of gun-battles and zombies is going to make you want to make it to the final chapter.

“The Mandibles” goes for the ‘economic collapse’ flavor of apocalypse. The US defaults on it’s debts, becomes an economic pariah, and tries to inflate it’s way outta things. In the midst of this are several generations of the Mandible family who were counting on their family wealth but instead watch it vanish. The story covers several members who represent various mindsets and lifestyles…the practical, the pessimistic, the naive, the possibly sociopathic, the intelligentsia, and others.

What I found that made the story compelling was the fairly realistic, as I see it, representation of how daily life changes as the economy disintegrates. Our characters lose jobs, face empty supermarkets, inflated prices, evictions, robberies, medical emergencies, and eventually totalitarian government, all through the course of the book.

Although I disliked the last couple chapters of the book, which seemed to turn a gritty somewhat-reality-based economic collapse into a L. Neil Smith libertarian fantasy, I really enjoyed the book in general. I’ve always said that the hallmark of good fiction is if it makes you think about things in ways that you might not have otherwise. In this case, after reading though the book in one sitting, I found myself inventorying my precious metals stash and resolving to make some future purchases. Yes, I’m that susceptible to things I read.

Gunplay? Virtually none. Cannibal army? None. But was it compelling reading? Absolutely. Only one character in the book seemed to have any grasp of the severity of the situation and the implications for the future. I found myself eagerly waiting for the parts where he would respond to the situations without the normalcy bias everyone else seemed to have.

My impression: good book, enjoyable read, not for the person who wants all-action-all-the-time, but definitely good for someone who wants to imagine a ‘wargame’ of riding out the dollars collapse in a big city.

Mail Call

This showed up in todays mail:

20170320_120014A few posts back someone mentioned in the comments that they thought it was a book i might find interesting and, surpise, they sent me a copy. Dang nice of ’em, if ya ask me. Much thanks. I’ll post about it when I get done reading it!

I suspect it will be a case of seeing in print a feeling or ideal I’ve always had but had never been able to fully articulate. We shall see.

Heinleins bomb shelter

Speaking of Heinlein, while we are all familiar with at least one or two of his works, not many people are aware of one of his more interesting pieces – Farnham’s Freehold. A short read about some folks who pile into their bomb shelter to survive WW3 and wake up far in the future where things are a good bit different than the time they just left. It touches on some fairly sensitive issues (not the least of which is Heinlein’s apparently increasing fascination with..uhm …’close family relationships’…).

farnhams-freehold-3What is interesting is that Heinlein not only wrote about riding things out in a bomb shelter (or fallout shelter, really), but he actually built one under is home. In the ’60’s he had a custom home built (which was numbered ‘1776’, of course) and under it he built a bomb shelter. While the house is gone, the shelter remains.

Fallout/bomb shelters also appeared in a few of Heinlein’s other works. There was a very nice one in ‘Friday‘ (one of my favorite Heinlein books), and theres some very clever information in the story about camouflaging the shelter and hiding its security system control switch. Good reading.

One more thing, while I’m on the subject of books. Here’s a link I found listing a nice collection of post-apocalypse fiction. I’ve heard of many of them, and a lot of them are pulp, but they’re still quite entertaining.

Book – In The Heart Of The Sea

Just finished reading In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, a book about some very unfortunate sailors who spent three months drifting around the Pacific unitl they finally had to start eating each other to survive. Most notable is the ‘casting of lots’ where, when there wasnt a dead body around, they drew lots to see who would be killed and consumed. It’s a dark story that surfaces every few years when someone rediscovers it.

The book is pretty interesting, although the first couple chapters and the last couple chapters are more about the history of Nantucket and whaling, and while that is interesting I was more interested in the actual Essex story. The cover of the book mentions that a movie is in the offing and I cannot imagine how they would accurately portray some of the hideous scenes described in the book.

Screen-shot-2014-02-08-at-7.41.30-AMFor reasons I am not entirely sure of, stories like this fascinate me. When I was a kid I used to read Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivorsover and over. (If youre not familiar with it, a plane full of rugby players crashes in the Andes and the survivors spend a couple months up there in the wreck eating the dead and waiting for rescue before finally walking out on their own.)

While the story of the Essex is macabre and fascinating, I’m more interested in the aftermath. According to the book, two of the survivors spent the rest of their lives hoarding food. Also, the psychological changes are extremely interesting….the first-person accounts in the book jibe with other accounts of people experiencing starvation: food becomes an all-consuming obsession and there is virtually nothing a person won’t do to get it.

The book also notes something I was only peripherally aware of – The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. I need to track down some more info on this because it looks very interesting. From what I can find on Wiki it appears that, as we’ve known all along, hungry people are dangerous people but fortunately they won’t be terribly effective people. (However, they’ll probably have numbers on their side.)  On the other hand, starvation is a slow process and long before someone starving to death becomes frail and feeble they become hard and hungry.The study is available on Amazon as two very expensive volumes…I might have to go old-school and see if the local library can get it.

The idea behind the experiment, by the way, appears to have been to find the best way to feed and restore people who had been almost starved to death…concentration camp prisoners, famine victimes, etc…..which reminds me of this story.

Other than a few months of economic misfortune and lack of direction when I was much younger, I have had no real experience with being hungry. Oh, I was hungry at the time, but if I really got in over my head I could have called family for help…but I was way too proud to do that, so I lived with eating every other day and snagging what i could where I could. However, I’ve taken great steps to make sure that I don’t find myself in a foodless situation. Oh, sure, I may wander into the kitchen and disgustedly say “There’s nothing to eat” but that’s not true…that really just means “Theres nothing here I want to eat”. When you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything…which is precisely why I have a stash of food – so I don’t have to eat anything.

Which, I suppose, is a timely reminder that the Augason Farms “One Month Pack” is still 50% off as of this writing. Storage food goes a long way towards keeping your neighbors off the menu.


Unexpected packages

A surprise in the mail today….Station Eleven: A novel … My first thought was that it was an advance copy from some author or his/her publisher. No, turned out someone liked it and thought I might like it as well. So…to that benefactor, thanks muchly and I promise to read it soon and post about it.


Its pretty hard to find good post-apocalyptic fiction so I’m always eager to try something new.