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Monday, January 9, 2012

Reading List: Survivors

Rawles, James Wesley. Survivors. New York: Atria Books, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4391-7280-3.
This novel is frequently described as a sequel to the author's Patriots (December 2008), but in fact is set in the same time period and broadens the scope from a small group of scrupulously prepared families coping with a “grid down” societal collapse in an isolated and defensible retreat to people all around the U.S. and the globe in a wide variety of states of readiness dealing with the day to day exigencies after a hyperinflationary blow-off destroys paper money worldwide and leads to a breakdown in the just-in-time economy upon which life in the developed world has become dependent.

The novel tracks a variety of people in different circumstances: an Army captain mustered out of active duty in Afghanistan, an oil man seeking to ride out the calamity doing what he knows best, a gang leader seeing the collapse of the old order as the opportunity of a lifetime, and ordinary people forced to summon extraordinary resources from within themselves when confronted with circumstances nobody imagined plausible. Their stories illustrate how even a small degree of preparation (most importantly, the knowledge and skills you possess, not the goods and gear you own [although the latter should not be neglected—without a source of clean water, in 72 hours you're a refugee, and as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote in Lucifer's Hammer, “No place is more than two meals from a revolution”]) can make all the difference when all the rules change overnight.

Rawles is that rarest of authors: a know-it-all who actually knows it all—embedded in this story, which can be read simply as a periapocalyptic thriller, is a wealth of information for those who wish to make their own preparations for such discontinuities in their own future light cones. You'll want to read this book with a browser window open to look up terms and references to gear dropped in the text (acronyms are defined in the glossary at the end, but you're on your own in researching products).

Some mylar-thin thinkers welcome societal collapse; they imagine it will sweep away the dysfunction and corruption that surrounds us today and usher in a more honourable and moral order. Well, that may be the ultimate result (or maybe it won't: a dark age has its own momentum, and once a culture has not only forgotten what it knew, but forgotten what it has forgotten, recovery can take as long or longer than it took to initially discover what has been lost). Societal collapse, whatever the cause, will be horrific for those who endure it, many of whom will not survive and end their days in misery and terror. Civilisation is a thin veneer on the red in tooth and claw heritage of our species, and the predators among us will be the first to exploit the opportunity that a breakdown in order presents.

This novel presents a ruthlessly realistic picture of what societal collapse looks like to those living it. In a way, it is airbrushed—we see the carnage in the major metropolitan areas only from a distance. But for those looking at the seemingly endless list of “unsustainable” trends underway at present and wise enough to note that something which is unsustainable will, perforce, end, this book will help them think about the aftermath of that end and suggest preparations which may help riding it out and positioning themselves to prosper in the inevitable recovery.

Posted at January 9, 2012 23:41