Pros: Some interesting details
Cons: A couple things veer dangerously close to slapstick
Rating: 2 out of 5
Roger Hayden’s part of the EMP Blackout Super Boxset) did not wow me. Much like James Hunt’s entry in this set, Hayden’s plot involves the detonation of devices causing an EMP to affect various major cities. Power’s out. Cars are out. Unlike the zombie apocalypse, the EMP scenario doesn’t directly kill anyone–meaning there are a lot more people trying to split the remaining supplies. James Cook is a history professor and a prepper (someone who is preparing for the end of civilization by storing supplies and developing skills that don’t need electricity). He and some other preppers he met online went in on a house in the middle of nowhere. James acts as its caretaker, making sure it has shielded generators, fuel supplies, and as many food supplies as possible. When the EMP hits, his friends head out to meet him. Mark and Janice haven’t really been keeping up with their supplies, but they do have an old vehicle that will run after the EMP. Terrance and Christina are ready to go, along with two of their children (Tobias and Paula), but their oldest child, Richie, refuses to go. Eventually they make peace with the fact that he’s staying with his girlfriend and they head out anyway.
At first all seems well at the house in the woods. There’s a minimal amount of power via both solar collectors and generators, but there isn’t a whole lot to do (particularly for children). I developed a dislike of Mark early on–he’s snippy and pissy at people and, frankly, is kind of an asshole. I found it difficult to believe Mark and Janice were preppers to the extent that they’d go in on this house in the middle of nowhere. James was an interesting and likable character, and I was largely fond of Christina and her family. I like that Christina was the gun nut in the group.
It seemed like the EMP went off vaguely around rush hour, so frankly I was surprised that having older, unaffected cars would even help. After all, you’d expect many roads to be gridlocked. I thought the house was set up reasonably well, although not being a prepper myself, I couldn’t really say for sure.
There are occasional lectures in here that aren’t integrated well into the narrative. Also, the (3d person omniscient) narration sometimes dashes off in weird directions for a paragraph or three, making it difficult to follow along, and occasionally difficult to figure out whether a character knows about a specific thing or not.
Now for some semi-random gripes: First, how is it that so many of these people in the towns have enough plywood lying around to board up their windows? Second, how does James justify putting bear traps near the cars and fuel when there are two kids in the house? Third, when the survival camp you run off to join asks–before they’ll let you in–how many women and how many men you have in your party, rather than the total number of people, why would you not immediately run away? Fourth, haven’t these characters watched the Walking Dead or read any other prepper fiction? ‘Cause seriously, they should know by now (it’s already reaching the status of cliche) that anyone advertising a sanctuary for everyone is lying through their teeth. Fifth, I think I said the words “well, that escalated quickly,” at least four times, and some of these climactic events bordered on slapstick.
Let’s talk about that sanctuary next. It’s run by a charismatic but physically sick guy named Russell, who’s trying to build up his own army to march on DC. He doesn’t have a lot of people yet, but he’s keeping some random college students who happened upon the place and not allowing them to leave. He also doesn’t allow any of James’s group to leave, and has James along when the group goes to ‘recruit’ people–by kidnapping them. I don’t think he has enough loyal minions to carry this off despite the fact that they have lots of guns, and he should’ve realized James would not be okay with this activity.
There’s also a lot of stuff surrounding Russell that doesn’t get adequately explained. He decides that one of the female college students should start dating college student 1 (Jeff) instead of college student 2 (Danny) because Danny isn’t playing along. Somehow that starts happening with no explanation as to how on earth Russell could have possibly arranged it.
It turns out that some of Russell’s loyal followers are there because their lives went to hell. It’s made clear that this is because Russell would manipulate people to make them lose their businesses or jobs, get divorced, etc. There is no explanation whatsoever indicating that he had the means to do this. That isn’t something where you can just claim it happened without some sort of backup for the idea that it’s even possible.
I’m leaving things out because this review is already getting too long. There’s some decent prepper fiction out there, but this isn’t it.