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Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Reading List: Founders
- Rawles, James Wesley.
New York: Atria Books, 2012.
This novel is the third in the series which began with
Patriots (December 2008)
and continued with
Survivors (January 2012).
These books are not a conventional trilogy, in that all
describe events in the lives of their characters in
roughly the same time period surrounding
“the Crunch”—a grid down societal
collapse due to a debt crisis and hyperinflation. Many
of the same characters appear in the volumes, but different
episodes in their lives are described. This installment
extends the story beyond the end of the previous books (taking
into account the last chapter, well beyond), but most
of the story occurs in the years surrounding the Crunch.
In an introductory note, the author says the books can be
read in any order, but I think the reader will miss a great
deal if this is the first one read—most of the
characters who appear here have an extensive back-story in
the previous books, and you'll miss much of what motivates
them and how they found themselves in their present circumstances
if you start here.
Like the earlier novels, this is part thriller and part
survival tutorial. I found the two components less well
integrated here than before. The author seems prone to
launching into a litany of survival gear and tactics, not
to mention veering off into minutiæ of Christian
doctrine, leaving the story and characters on hold. For
example, in chapter 20:
The gear inside the field station CONEX included a pair
of R-390A HF receivers, two Sherwood SE-3 synchronous
detectors, four hardwired demodulators, a half dozen
multiband scanners, several digital audio recorders, two
spectrum analyzers, and seven laptop computers that were
loaded with demodulators, digital recorders, and
Does this really move the plot along? Is anybody other than
a wealthy oilman likely to be able to put together such a
rig for signal intelligence and traffic analysis? And if
not, why do we need to know all of this, as opposed to simply
describing it as a “radio monitoring post”?
This is not a cherry-picked example; there are numerous other
indulgences in gear geekdom.
The novel covers the epic journey, largely on foot, of Ken and
Terry Layton from apocalyptic Crunch Chicago, where they waited
too late to get out of Dodge toward the retreat their group had
prepared in the
and the development and exploits of an insurgency against the
so-called “Provisional Government” headquartered in
Fort Knox, Kentucky, which is a thinly-disguised front for
subjugation of the U.S. to the United Nations and looting the
population. (“Meet the new boss—same as the old
boss!”) Other subplots update us on the lives of characters
we've met before, and provide a view of how individuals and groups
try to self-organise back into a lawful and moral civil society
while crawling from the wreckage of corruption and afflicted by
locusts with weapons.
We don't do stars on reviews here at Fourmilab—I'm a
word guy—but I do occasionally indulge in sports metaphors.
I consider the first two novels home runs: if you're remotely
interested in the potential of societal
collapse and the steps prudent people can take to
protect themselves and those close to them from its
sequelæ, they are must-reads. Let's call this
novel a solid double bouncing between the left and centre
fielders. If you've read the first two books, you'll certainly
want to read this one. If you haven't, don't start here,
but begin at the beginning. This novel winds up the story,
but it does so in an abrupt way which I found somewhat
unconvincing—it seemed like the author was approaching
a word limit and had to close it out in however sketchy a
There are a few quibbles, but aren't there always?
So, read the first two, and if you like them, by all means get this
one. But don't start here.
- In chapter 8 we're told that Malmstrom Air Force Base
had a large inventory of
fuel. But this fuel, a 50–50 blend of kerosene
and gasoline, was phased out by the U.S. Air Force
in 1996 in favour of the less hazardous
It is unlikely that at least 16 years later an
Air Force base would still have JP-4 in storage.
- In chapter 11 we hear of the “UN's new headquarters
in Brussels”. But, if the UN headquarters in New York had
been destroyed, isn't is much more likely that the UN
would fall back on the existing European headquarters in
- In chapter 17, Ken is “given a small bottle of flat
black lacquer and a tiny brush from Durward's
collection…”. But Durward was the farmer
with whose family they passed the previous winter. I think
either Carl or Graham was intended here.
- In “President” Hutchings's speech in chapter 19,
he states that more than 65 million people were killed by
an influenza pandemic that swept the East and continues,
“Without antibiotics available, the disease ran rampant
until there were no more hosts to attack in the heavily
is a viral disease, against which antibiotics are completely
ineffectual. Of course, this may have been intended to
highlight the cluelessness of Hutchings and how glibly the
Provisional Government lied to its subjects.
- In the glossary,
is defined as a “VHF
broadcasting band”. The citizens' band in the
U.S. is in the 27 MHz range, which is considered in the
band, and is not a broadcast service.