Total Survivalist Blog: book review

I have been reading a lot of fiction lately. Almost all preparedness/ survival type stuff. Usually I would allocate far less time and money toward such a thing but right now it is an enjoyable combination of entertainment and escapism. Probably a waste of money butt is about the only healthy way I can treat myself a little bit right now.

I have been working pretty rapidly through the available titles. Amazon pointed me toward Deep Winter. I looked at the reviews and 2/3rds of them were 4 and 5 (out of 5 possible) and 1/3rd were ones. I remembered a buddy had read the series and while he didn’t rant and rave about how great they are he also didn’t say they sucked. I took a chance, the Kindle edition was only 5 bucks so worst case I wasn’t out much. I am very glad I took the chance.

The broad plot is that a massive earthquake devastates the Pacific Northwest in January. The main characters are a family living in Spokane, Washington. This event proceeds or maybe causes larger national and international events to play out. The book follows the main characters, their friends, family and neighbors as well as a variety of regional and international events through the first month or so of the event. I will go into a bit more detail below and will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.

[It has previously occurred to me that it would be bitterly ironic, given all of the survivalist planning and thought about ideal locations, if the inland Pacific Northwest was hammered a massive disaster.  I am sure it would be big fun in forums and comment sections of blogs. Some folks would never hear the end of it.]

The Good:

Lots of good, too much to remember or list. Overall this is probably the most realistic preparedness book I have read in a long time. Probably one of the most realistic ones I have ever read. The plot was certainly plausible and that is always a good start. To a certain degree it doesn’t matter what the event is (Lucifer’s Hammer, the Road, Zombie anything, etc) as it is people dealing with after affects that is the interesting part but starting realistic is a plus.

The main characters were prepared but not increadably so. Some characters had valuable skills but well within the normal range for people, especially in that area. The ridiculous almost cliché Navy Seal sniper/ diesel mechanic/ organic farmer/ trauma surgeon did not make an appearance. While I enjoy The Survivalist as much as the next guy this was a breath of fresh air.

I appreciated that there was enough violence to show some lessons (hint- post armed guards in discrete locations) and spice things up now and then but not so much that it read like a first person shooter video game. This also let the book put more energy into other areas like primitive cooking, improvisation to do without modern conveniences and equipment. These are areas which are so often minimized or entirely neglected in other books.

The benefits of forging relationships with local cops and power brokers were mentioned. There wasn’t blatant cronyism or bribery or anything like that, just basic human relationship stuff. It goes without saying that a conversation with a cop that starts with “Hi Bob, how is the family?” and “Everyone is good, sorry we missed you at the lodge last weekend” tends to end on an equally positive note.

I found the characterization of how the military would respond in this sort of a situation to be pretty plausible. They didn’t take peoples guns away or force them en mass into “shelters” or anything like that. They were a definite force for order, if a little heavy handed at times.  While I will keep my thoughts on this to myself I do have one observation. Folks who think local cops and soldiers are going to do all this crazy stuff probably don’t know a lot of cops or soldiers.  Sorry I got sidetracked, I will get back to the topic at hand.

I found the way that the situation in terms of security and supply availability deteriorated was very plausible. While you never know exactly what will happen the way it went seemed realistic. It didn’t turn into mad max overnight but they didn’t keep going to stores, which were getting resupplied, for weeks either.

Also the author would randomly use parentheses to mention something loosely related to what was being discussed or whatever popped into his head. I appreciate that because it is something I do.

The Bad:

First I want to address the criticisms I was in the Amazon reviews section. Some folks criticized the main characters for being some sort of religious whacko’s, the father for dominating the family and some other such things. They even threw the phrase “Christian Identity” around which is as far as I can tell, the Aryan Nations better spoken cousin. (That part was totally unfounded in anything I got out of the book.) Also editing errors or poor editing quality was mentioned.

The main characters are part of the “reborn” Christian community which seems to need to mention that they are Christian and discuss their faith out of context and to random people at a far higher ratio than most other folks. They prayed occasionally and mentioned the bible now and then and talked about some religious stuff occasionally. Sure the main character jumped onto his religious soap box now and then but it wasn’t too bad, I just skipped a paragraph or two. It was sort of like being at a banquet or party and talking to a random guy who has to mention that he is born again as a Christian, etc, etc even if the current topic of conversation is BBQing or college football. In my opinion it did not detract from the book. As to the family being too paternally dominated or something I would say there is a range of normal family decision making patterns and theirs doesn’t fall outside of it. Preparedness was sort of more the dad’s thing and thus he probably took the lead a bit more.

 I didn’t find poor editing to be an issue. Sometimes you see self published books in this arena that have text which repeats like it was copied and pasted but never deleted or systemic punctuation issues, poor grammar, etc. I didn’t see any of that lack of quality proof reading in this book. Could the book have benefited from the kind of very skilled editor that a large publisher would have, of course. It would have tightened things up a bit and cut out some fluff. However it did not detract from the overall quality of the book.

Onto my observations:

I found the action to be quite unrealistic. While I truly appreciated that the main characters weren’t some sort of super commando’s that didn’t save it. The book seemed to give them the standard ‘main character’ advantage but did so by making the bad guys universally idiotic and unlucky. Like the kind of idiots who couldn’t rob a 711 successfully if you handed them a pistol and a ski mask then gave them a ride to the 711.

Also I found the action to be overly simplistic. I will make up a similar scene to illustrate this point. “I heard a gunshot and grabbed my rifle. I walked around the house to see what was going on. I saw a guy with a gun in the bushes and shot him.”   First of all in real gunfights people miss. Professionals who do this for a living miss shots regularly. They miss them because they are moving and the other person is probably moving also. They miss because they are in sub optimal firing positions as they take cover. They miss because they can’t clearly see the target or because it is dark. Without reading it again just to look I would say the main characters didn’t seem to miss a shot. Also nobody got wounded or escaped/ broke contact. The bad guys were either killed or captured. While it wasn’t a big overall piece of the book I found it to be way too neat, simple and lopsidedly positive for the main characters. This didn’t really detract significantly from the overall book because that stuff wasn’t a significant part of it.

Their security was sloppy pretty consistently. That is not the authors background (I don’t think) which is cool but they could have done things more consistently. Having guards some nights and not others is a stupid plan. Sort of like carrying a concealed weapon but only on odd numbered days. The real lucky theme of the fights they had was definitely repeated in that they suffered no consequences for their significant security gaps.

The topic of how the main characters expect other people to treat private property vs. how they treat it came up briefly a couple times. It wasn’t blatantly hypocritical so that was good. This has come up in a couple books recently and I am starting to think the central issue may be in my head. I have some thinking to do on that one and will likely write about it later.

Two other things kind of annoyed me. First the main characters really liked using FRS radios. They had the push to talk ones with ear buds and were all on them, constantly, throughout the entire book. Also for reasons I am completely not clear on they said “affirm”. Not affirmative or acknowledged or WILCO but affirm. It was sort of like somebody without an insight to the military was trying to use military language to sound cool. Also in my experience they slightly exaggerated the capabilities and utility of those radios.

Secondly they talked about food a lot. Not food storage or food production or those issues but they were always talking in detail about something that was being cooked or eaten. The book could be slightly changed and called “Eating your way through the Apocalypse”. The format was kind of a recollection/ journal by day thing which worked well throughout except the ratio of the book which was made up of a detailed account of breakfast, then snack and beverages, then lunch, then dinner, then desert could have been a bit smaller. I really don’t care what they are eating for every single meal. It didn’t teach any lessons or provoke any thought or add to the story line.

The Ugly:

Nothing comes to mind. To be honest I was reaching pretty hard for the bad.

Overall Assessment: I really enjoyed this book and think you would also. It also provoked some ideas and thought on a couple subjects. The kindle edition was only five bucks and totally worth it for a long, well written book. I definitely got a lot for my entertainment dollars and that was just on the first read. The paperback was pretty expensive at almost 40 bucks on Amazon, likely because it is one of those very short run type books. I am planning to read the second book in the series next week and am really looking forward to it.