Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter

Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter is a book I have read twice over the last couple months. There are a series of books traveling between a few folks and I seem to be the end of a lot of it. Will have to pass some stuff on to other folks in the near future but that is another discussion.

The amazon blurb is:
He was one the best Marine snipers in Vietnam. Today, twenty years later, disgruntled hero of an unheroic war, all Bob Lee Swagger wants to be left alone and to leave the killing behind.

But with consummate psychological skill, a shadowy military organization seduces Bob into leaving his beloved Arkansas hills for one last mission for his country, unaware until too late that the game is rigged.

The assassination plot is executed to perfection—until Bob Lee Swagger, alleged lone gunman, comes out of the operation alive, the target of a nationwide manhunt, his only allies a woman he just met and a discredited FBI agent.

Now Bob Lee Swagger is on the run, using his lethal skills once more—but this time to track down the men who set him up and to break a dark conspiracy aimed at the very heart of America.


The book has also been described as 'A thinking mans Rambo'.

 If you haven't picked it up by now this is the book which inspired the 2007 Marky Mark masterpiece Shooter. As such I am not excessively concerned with spoilers.

The Good:
A fast and enjoyable read. The combination of action and military/ military industrial complex/ intelligence type intrigue makes the book a page turner. A lot of the intrigue stuff was lost when the book was turned into a movie.

If you are into folks talking about the technology, skill and theory of ling distance precision shooting you will have a lot to like in this book. Also there was a lot of general gun talk. On the fun side since the book was written in the early 90's it is now dated in a way that is somewhat amusingly antiquated. Cops carrying revolvers, era appropriate scopes and 1911's, sweet leather holsters and even a prominently displayed Mini-14. I found it quite fun in a sort of nostalgic way.

The importance of cold hard cash and caches came up in a meaningful way. Survivalists can get so into ideas about gear, food, etc that they fail to realize it is far more likely a scenario will be greatly improved by a big wad of 20's than fero rods and fishing line. Of course we can all agree guns are pretty useful.

The portrayal of Southern and or shooting culture is pretty accurate. In particular the importance of the concept of honor was accurately portrayed. Of course it is a book so arguably some stuff was amplified a bit but a whole lot more was right than wrong.

The Bad:
Any time you have an action type story line, especially with a strong bad ass type character, the story almost invariably has some times where it gets a bit unrealistic to the point where it fails the common sense test.

While I do enjoy the technical gun stuff  at times it likely detracted from the story. We really didn't need to have discussions about the type of reloading dies Bobby Lee used or the particular gunsmith who might have installed a particular aftermarket barrel on a Remington 700 .308. I found it fun and interesting in a well thought out, albeit period appropriate way but for many folks it was at best neutral and at worst an annoyance.

I sort of think this was the kind of 'shout out's' to the shooting community like how a rap song has to mention 3 dumpy areas and country songs mention a whole bunch of southern and or western states plus rivers and mountain ranges.

[Seriously, I listen to country music and while I enjoy the older stuff it is not on the radio as much as one might like so the newer stuff gets some play. Some of the new stuff is good even though much of it is a bit poppy. However the need to mention so many locations is ridiculous. I have made a game of counting how many specific places songs mention. Maybe market research has said that if an artist mentions a state sales there go up so every song has to mention Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, the Carolina's, Texas, etc. The ones who really think it out can mention every state in the Confederacy, 3 rivers, 2 cities, a swamp and a mountain range. Don't even get me started on that psuedo rap country crap music they play on the radio now.]

The Ugly:
None.

Discussion: This book is a fictional action based story and as such is probably not long on tangible lessons unless you really want to build an early 90's inspired high end precision rifle based on a Remington 700. Still it is a good read and you might well grab some amusing tid bits out of it.

Overall Assessment: You can get a copy of the paperback for well under ten bucks, probably under five at a used book store. It is an enjoyable read and well worth purchasing. I think you will enjoy reading it and pick it up off the shelf to revisit every so often.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book Review: Expatriates by Jim Rawles

Today it is my pleasure to review Expatriates: A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse by Jim Wesley Rawles. Like Jim' other novels Patriots, Survivors and Founders this one takes place during the same chaotic period of time set ominously in 'the not so distant future.'

Here is the promo blurb
In the latest survivalist thriller from founder of survivalblog.com and New York Times bestselling author James Wesley, Rawles, two expat families struggle for their very survival in the midst of a global economic collapse.

When the United States suffers a major socioeconomic collapse, a power vacuum sweeps the globe. A newly radicalized Islamic government rises to power in Indonesia, invades the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, and finally northern Australia. No longer protected by American military interests, Australia must repel an invasion alone.

In the thick of these political maneuvers, an American family of missionaries living in the Philippines and a Texan petroleum engineer in Australia must face the fear of being strangers in a world in flux. Are their relatives back home healthy and safe? Will they ever see them again?


In its depiction of the authentic survivalist skills and techniques needed to survive a global socioeconomic meltdown, Expatriates is as informative as it is suspense-filled.

The novel follows 3 groups; on  a family of Christian missionaries living in the Philippines, a  Texas oilman and some Australian folks he gets intertwined with and a family that run a hardware store in Florida. Like the previous books in the series it sort of flashes between the different groups in a generally chronological order.

Onto the usual format.

The Good: I really feel like Jim Rawles turned a corner in his writing with this book. Maybe it is personal development or learning from the last couple. Maybe it's some change in the editorial process or the slippers Jim wore while writing, I don't know. Regardless whatever it was should be kept the same for all of Jim's future writing. This book went a long way to address my (and some other folks) biggest criticisms of the Jim's last 2 fiction books that they jumped around too much and sometimes there were fairly long passages or even characters that didn't really tie into anything.

Expatriates keeps the multiple characters in different places format but this time it really works. The passages on an individual group are a bit longer so it flows better. Instead of reading 5 pages about Group A then 7 about Group B you will see more like (I didn't count it out so this is a rough guess) 20 on Group A then 14 on Group B. The overall result was a lot fewer transitions which made for a book that flowed much better. This was definitely a sustain.

The other good part is that everything tied together. The writing in this book seemed more intentional than in some previous books. There was not a point where I found myself thinking "Why am I reading this passage?" Everything fit in nicely and stayed on track. This added to my overall enjoyment of the reading experience.

Using the massive audience of Survival Blog Jim is able to bring in real world practical knowledge that surpasses what any one individual could possible accumulate. He can lean on 3 people who live in an area and another 4 who have decades of experience in whatever. I suspect this strongly helped with being realistic about technical details and the settings in the book. In particular, without getting too into spoiler territory this book has some very interesting stuff on taking long ocean voyages in relatively small boats and home/ small business security to continue operations in a dangerous environment. I found myself taking some mental notes on both of these topics. This authenticity/ factual correctness and high level of detail across a wide variety of areas really helps make the book useful, even for someone who has read his previous books.

As it's been awhile since I read Jim Rawles other fiction novels I found myself appreciating that these books nature is that they stand alone. You don't need to remember where one book ended to enjoy another. While continuations of the same theme they involve different places and characters. There is occasional overlap but you do not have to read Patriots to understand Survivors or either to get Founders or the newest in the series Expatriates. A person could pick up any of the books to read and enjoy as a stand alone novel.

Expatriates is by far the best written of Jim Wesley's fiction efforts and clearly the best of the Patriots sequels. It kept the interesting and plausible concepts of previous books but was wrapped in a far more readable package. I can see it gaining considerable traction in the adventure type circles; especially for folks who like a good read sans unnecessary gratuitous sex, profanity and graphic violence.

The Bad:

The only part I found a bit of a stretch was the non survivalist hardware store owners who happened to conveniently have a variety of unique characteristics in their home/ store setup AND lives that left them better set up than most survivalists. It was just a couple too many convenient things to be realistic without them making intentional choices in that direction.  Also it was probably implausible that the guy did all this other stuff and had a whole bunch of silver but didn't have a fighting rifle. Way more folks own an AR/ AK/ .308 battle rifle than own a couple hundred dollars face in 90% silver.

The Pre 1899 gun thing came up again albeit in the same gun ban as previous books. Again I have to say the idea that basically every modern gun could be banned yet this loophole would be carried over is just silly. While they do have a unique benefit TODAY if everything is being banned you would be far better off hiding/ fighting/ whatever with modern guns. A far more prudent course of action would be to buy a Glock/ Sig/ M&P/ 1911 and AK/ AR/ .308 with cash via a private party, maybe even get a spare set to stash away. Sure if you live in a totally anti gun area or like collecting old guns rock on but stash some modern defensive guns just in case.

The Ugly:

I wish whatever clicked to make this book such an easy, enjoyable fluid read happened earlier.

Overall Assessment:
Excellent book that is well worth the money. Folks who may have been turned off of Jim Rawles fiction would be well advised to give this book a shot as I think they will be pleasantly surprised.

Please wait till the 1 October Book Bomb Day to buy your copy of Expatriates!!!

Disclosure: I received an early copy of Expatriates to review. Also fundamentally Jim Rawles has been very good to me and my blogging efforts over the years. Not quite a mentor parse but more like that cool guy at the range who lets you always lets you shoot his cool new toy which you get to shoot and has the tool/ item you need but forgot to bring. How much that clouds my judgement on the matter I cannot say but there it is.

Buy your own copy of Expatriates on 1 October Book Bomb Day!!!



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Book Review: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

Ghost Wars took a long time for me to read. Somewhere around 5 years actually. Some time at Ft Benning, it seems like a lifetime ago, I purchased this book then started reading it. Got about a third of the way through then lost interest. Put the book aside on the shelf.

Not too long ago I picked the book back up. This time I had a much better understanding of Afghanistan from reading various books and such as well as real life experience. Also I am a touch older and just maybe more patient. Anyway I finished the book yesterday.

This book starts in the end of the Soviet Afghan War. It goes into great lengths discussing the intertwined, hypocritical and generally dysfunctional relationships between the CIA, their Afghan "Warlord" partners, Pakistan, Pakistani Intelligence, the Arab gulf states particularly Saudi Arabia and Osama Bin Laden. It goes through how this combination of more or less cooperative forces ultimately defeated the Afghan Communists (though one could argue what defeated them was Russian aid ending but I digress) then created a coalition government then fell into civil war and total chaos. Ultimately this lead to the rise of the Taliban then Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda element arrived. It also touches on the rise of modern fundamentalist terrorism as it related to the rest of the story. To the usual format.

The Good: Very informative. It also covers a period in Afghanistan's recent history that is easy to gloss over. The period after the Soviet Afghan war is admittedly easy to miss but it lead to the rise of the Taliban then 9/11 which lead to our misadventures in Afghanistan. I got a ton out of this book. A real understanding of how many things came to be. Through understanding it really cleared up a lot about the period after 9/11.

The Bad: While it would be difficult to talk about all of these topics separately and I suppose the generally chronological method of the book makes sense but it left the reader jumping from Washington DC on one page to Saudi Arabia on the next then back to an Afghan hovel. It got a bit hard to follow at times. Also this is not a book for a beginner on the topic. To read this book you need a pretty decent understanding of Afghan history in general and the Soviet Afghan War to make much sense out of this book.

The Ugly: This book is long and dry, really long and really dry. The book (not notes) was just under 500 pages. It is a fairly large book with small font so it probably reads like closer to 600.

While it is informative the book is pretty darn dry. Even being interested in the topic I had a hard time digging through the book. There were parts where it picked up but it probably averaged slightly more interesting than a college Algebra text.

Overall Assessment: If you can manage to slog through it this book does offer value. It would probably be the 4th or 5th book I would recommend a person read about Afghanistan if they were sufficiently interested. However you definitely have to work to get it. Most people would probably be better off putting their time and money into a book that is easier to read.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: The Survivalist Family by Joe Fox

Today I am going to be reviewing The Survivalist Family by Joe Fox. If you are not familiar with Pastor Joe Fox then check out his youtube channel which is full of great stuff. Anyway I picked this book up as an add on when ordering the Swack Shack.

The Good: Let's see, the book is chock full of great advice! I especially appreciate that while it has some lists they are well thought out, limited and for specific purposes. You will not see the same 30 pages of sloppy excell documents pasted into this book!

I also appreciated that Pastor Joe hit on budgeting and the financial side of affording survivalist stuff as well as making it work in a relationship where the spouse is less than entirely on board. These are two awesome topics that rarely get mentioned and even then it is usually a brief hand wave. Pastor Joe took the time to talk about the topics in a well thought out realistic manner. 

The book stayed on topic in a thought out way. The discussions of categories/ concept of use flowed into brief lists with occasional relevant and useful anecdotes along the way. It did not jump around or go into aimless rants on tangent topics like other books sometimes do.

Also obviously Pastor Joe really knows what he is talking about. Aside from his considerable and useful military experience Pastor Joe has been doing this for awhile and genuinely practices what he recommends. Very good stuff all around.

The Bad: At a bit under $20 the book is a little on the expensive side. To be fair to Pastor Joe and his book the per unit cost of publishing smaller runs of books is pretty high. Whatever the reason is the book is a touch spendy.

Ugly: Pastor Joe didn't write this book a decade ago and it didn't stumble into my life much earlier.

Overall Conclusion: The Survivalist Family was an excellent book. It gave me a lot of things to think about and implement in our pursuit of preparedness. I definitely think it would be an excellent book to give to a beginner starting out. I strongly recommend purchasing a copy

Camping Survival is running a 20% off sale on their Wise Food Products from the 24th to the 28th of June.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Patriot Dawn The Resistance Rises by Max Velocity

Today I am pleased to be reviewing Max Velocity's newest book Patriot Dawn: The Resistance Rises. The basic plot is as follows. A veteran and his family in the DC/ Northern Virginia area find themselves in a grid down collapse type scenario and simultaneously faced with an oppressive regime. They have some misadventures and end up involved in the resistance against said oppressive regime. Any further than that will get seriously into spoiler territory. To the usual format.

The Good: A plausible scenario is always a good start. Some of Max's book ready like the news these days. The book offered some seriously great advice for anybody looking to fight a guerrilla war against an oppressive regime. Without using buzz words to sound knowledgeable Max laid out some very good information. It would be difficult to overstate the amount of good information that is in this book. To put it into perspective I have been in the Army for awhile, done a whole lot of training, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, read bunches of books and I got a lot out of this book. Just maybe some day having a hard copy of this book around could be handy.

The Bad: The characters were a bit flat and at times they related to each other in ways that needed to be better developed to seem superficial and could have been better developed. I took this with a grain of salt for two reasons. First Max is not a professional fiction author; expecting him to write like one would not be realistic. Secondly the parts these parts did not really detract too much from the book. Sort of like Patriots it is halfway a how to wrapped in a fiction novel so the lessons aren't lost because Bob and Sue's dialog wasn't perfect.

The Ugly: About a quarter of the way into the book there was a scene that was ridiculous. I do not want to spoil the details but the main character and his family somehow killed several guys who had better weapons, superior positioning, initiative and numbers on their side. It was ridiculous and in my experience totally implausible. If it would have been hammed up a bit more it could have been a scene out the The Survivalist; all they would have needed is to have the main character dual wielding stainless Detonics Combat Master 1911's while riding a Harley and smoking a cigarillo.

I got pretty annoyed and almost stopped reading the book. Figured if this was going to be the way it went why waste my time. However thankfully I continued reading. There were no parts like that and the rest of the book was awesome.

Overall Assessment. I found this book enjoyable and very informative. Strongly suspect you will also find it a worthwhile read. It paired with Max's nonfiction book Contact would give about as much of an edge in surviving a nasty situation as two books can. If you can find a sale that is cool but don't hold off to find one. Get yourself a hard copy of Patriot Dawn sooner instead of later.

For the sake of full disclosure I received a copy of this book to review.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: The Blighted by Archer Garrett


Our long time friend, advertiser and overall collaborative partner Archer Garrett wrote a new book The Blighted. After reading it the logical thing seemed to be talking about it. So here we go.

The basics are that the world is hit by a global Zombie event. It follows multiple groups of people across the world and in the American Gulf Coast area.

The Good: It was a fast and enjoyable read. The book was able to delicately balance staying interesting and being action packed with being fairly realistic about the characters skills and capabilities. I find stories (like this) about fairly normal folks more interesting that the super duper survivalist/ Sammy the Seal fantasy.


This book was a good example of how you can switch from character to character and keep things cohesive. It did not get choppy or unduly confusing at any point. Along these lines it has been great watching Archer develop and improve as a writer.

The Bad: Few significant survivalist/ preparedness lessons. Definitely a book to buy for entertainment not a manual wrapped in a fiction novel like some books. This is not really a bad thing, just something to be aware of.

The Ugly: Nothing to speak of.

Overall assessment: Solid read. I enjoyed this book and think you will also. For $3 it is a great value for your entertainment dollar.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Brushfire Plague by RP Ruggiero

Brushfire Plague is a book about a man by the name of Cooper, his family and community during a Pandemic that makes the 1918 Spanish Flu seem like a case of the sniffels. While everything falls apart our hero Cooper tries to hold things together and figure out what is going on. Onto the usual format.

The Good: I was sucked into the book and pages flew by. Most characters were pretty normal and the action was (except 1 scene we will discuss later) pretty realistic.

The Bad: The way things fell apart seemed a bit off to me. At one point the main character goes to the grocery store to stock up because of the pandemic and ends up shooting a guy. He skips paying, pushes the cart to his vehicle and goes home. This was the local neighborhood grocery store. I do not think that was at all realistic.

The Ugly: Sort of like Lights Out the characters seemed to magically stumble into enough food and weapons to be fine. For vague reasons their little subdivision was just fine while the rest of the area went all Mad Max. There was one survivalist in the bunch who conveniently had a whole bunch of guns to pass out to friends which was just too convenient.

Overall I would recommend Brushfire Plague to others. It is solidly enjoyable survivalist fiction.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book Review: Founders by Jim Wesley, Rawles

Founders is the third fiction book by Jim Wesley, Rawles. These books are a bit different than most because they run contemporaneously. So  in other words Patriots, Survivors and Founders are all happening at the same time.

This book covers the Layton's cross country treck from Chicago, Ill to the super retreat in Idaho in significantly more detail than it previously was touched on in Patriots. It also wraps in a couple other sets of characters from the second book.

The book spends a good bit of time on the composition of the new Provincial Government out of FT. Knox and how it occupies new areas and regulates occupied areas. I don't want to get too much deeper into the plot and spoil anything.

I have heard some criticisms of this book that deserve to be addressed. Some folks said they got less out of this book then previous ones. These books, in particular Patriots, have been characterized as survival manuals worked into fiction novels. This viewpoint certainly has at least some truth to it.

Using the old fiction series The Survivalist as an example you are going to get less out of book 6 than book 1 if you have read them all in order. It isn't that book 6 necessarily has any less value than 1 but that you have heard most of the authors major points and pet ideas by then. At some point in a series it is sort of inevitable that you will have been exposed to most of the major lessons the author has to give.

That point aside onto the usual format.

The Good: I appreciated that this book displayed a lot of fairly regular folks and their effort's to make it through a hard time. It had some interesting points where characters tried to stock up at the last minute and found the obvious guns/ammo/fuel missing. This is good because too many books let folks somehow get 4 guns, 12 cases of ammo and a years worth of food after an economic collapse. The characters then picked up some other useful items that were still available. Stuff like extra rifle scopes, hunting clothes and such. Interesting food for thought.

Even the more skilled and prepared folks made some good moves and some less good ones. There were not John Rourke figures who get into gunfights with 40 hard core bikers and kill them all. The more survivalist fiction I read the more I appreciate this.

Now that I think about it the book was fairly low on violence though some is realistically present. The book dealt more with folks getting prepared, day to day issues and the structure of both Pro Gov as well as the resistance. This worked well and made things interesting without getting all ridiculous. In this regard the book had a sort of different focus than Survivors which focused on less prepared folks figuring out how to get by or Patriots which had the uuber prepared group with the sweet survivalist retreat.

The threads about folks in the US military and how they did and did not cooperate with the Provincial Government and UN were pretty interesting. This part was well thought out and entirely plausible. Also it gave us some credit which is appreciated. Definitely something to think about.

Also this book did a pretty good job of staying off the gear and all too common specific model gun porn soap box. It seemed much more 'got a pistol, a rifle and a .22' so guns are covered than folks falling short because they lack the coolest Blast O Master 6000. This made me happy.  

The Bad: There were a couple gun porn .308/30.06 moments. At one point a character inferred that the M4 was not effective at intermediate distances (I think it was about 300 meters) which is just ridiculous. There was also another moment that fell into the 'battle rifle' long distance 'ambush' point of view which in my opinion is not really a viable strategy. That being said we all have our 'things' and the 'battle rifle' is one of the author's. It didn't detract from the book and was easy enough to just ignore.

Also the 'pre 1899' firearms came up in what I think is a less than plausible context. The new evil government that was banning pretty much everything kept the current loophole of exempting pre 1899 firearms. Like some evil UN Mercenary is going to stop and look up if a 30-30 or a 12 gauge was made in 1899 or 1935 or 1957? These guns have some distinct benefits today but thinking this would help you out in a totalitarian gun grab is probably wishful thinking. 

The Ugly: Like the second book Survivors this one follows multiple characters and sort of jumps back and forth between them. It just didn't to work quite as well here. I think it just moved a little too fast. Sometimes we just stayed with a character for just a few pages and then moved on. A couple character threads would have been better served by either getting filled out a bit more or otherwise cut out entirely.

Overall Assessment:  I liked this book and enjoyed reading it. At this point if you have read the previous books Patriots and Survivors you know JWR's beliefs/ writing style and generally what to expect. If you liked his previous fiction books (particularly Survivors as it is more similar to Founders than the first book) then I think you will like this book. Founders can be purchased here.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review.






Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book Review: Contact by Max Velocity

Today we will be reviewing Contact: A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival by Max Velocity. Max has a background in both the British and American armies and has deployed multiple times. Certainly he seems to know what he's talking about. The basic premise of this book is just what the title says a tactical manual for post collapse survival. In this regard I would say it is an overall success.

The Good: If I had to give someone a single book to train them to fight and survive this would be a really good candidate. I appreciate that this book sticks to it's purpose not trying to be another everything in one book type survival manual and also hit on food storage, lighting, sanitation, etc all. The guy knows his strengths and sticks to them instead of getting over his head in different subjects. I sure appreciated that.

The basic concept of distilling military manuals and tactics into plain and simple language for a militia or survivalist audience is not particularly new. Max does it better than most and all in one place. The resulting book is a solid resource. Most folks would get bogged down in FM 7-8 and lost with acronym's and considerations for non applicable threats like attack aviation or technology typical civilians do not posses.

I particularly liked the chapter on vehicle movement which is available more or less in it's entirety at WRSA. It is definitely worth taking a hard look at potentially with some action to follow. Many chapters have interesting little pieces based on likely survivalist scenarios that relates them to military tactics. Seriously good stuff.

The Bad: The book gets a bit excessive in terms of 'translating' terms and acronyms into plain English. At times it seemed this was being done just for the sake of itself without really relating them to anything survivalists would need to do. Probably 7-10% of the book could be removed by cutting this unnecessary  stuff out.

Additionally while the book stays out of having the obligatory food storage, sanitation, communication and maintenance chapters that are almost totally generic it slips into firearms training, medical and some other areas. The piece on shooting which is 2-3 pages without pictures or diagrams (we will revisit this) is awkward and not helpful. The piece on casualties aka medical is a confusing mix of explaining US Army trauma care, partial lists of components for various kits and brief description of how to treat various injuries that is particularly painful. I am not entirely sure what the answer is. Maybe more space could have been put to these areas if other parts (like explaining needless acronyms) were omitted. Maybe fewer such areas could be covered at more length. 

The Ugly: This book is sorely in need of pictures. The parts on mounted and dismounted movement were explained with some basic sketches. The usual dot people and vehicles moving with arrow type stuff. The rest of the book would have really benefited from pictures.

Overall Assessment: If you want a book that breaks down a lot of useful Army type stuff into civilian this is a good option. In fact it is the best I have seen to date. I can't think of a better single book for a survivalist without a military background to use to train and plan from. That being said it probably isn't for everybody. Folks with a solid combat arms background probably don't need this book for their own purposes. They would be better off referring directly to applicable FM's or TM's. For twenty bucks one could have a good hard copy reference that translates basic military tactics into civilian which could come in handy some day.

Anyway if this book interests you it can be purchased here.



Thursday, August 2, 2012

IPR #1: Stacey's Quest

I often seem to have a wait list for books. Stacey's Quest finally worked it's way to the top of the pile. I am about 1/3rd of the way into it.

Stacey's Quest is about a teenaged girl living in Philadelphia as well as her family and friends. It starts out with them going to the mall and then well, things fall apart. The girls try to make their way in a situation they are totally unprepared to handle the best they can. I don't want to say much more at the risk of spoilers.

This book is very different when compared to most survivalist fiction.  There are not (at least yet) any John Rourke characters with unbelievable skill sets and ridiculous arsenals, years worth of food and awesome bunkers/ hinter boonies retreats. While those books can show the value of being well prepared as well as some interesting ideas they probably aren't representative of most survivalists, let alone average folks.

The characters don't seem to have magically found a bunch of cool gear and sweet guns, learned to fight like a pro MMA guy and shoot like a 3 gun champ which I appreciate. The books where Joe Shmoe all of a suddent turns into Sammy the Seal annoy me a lot. People get lucky or unlucky but nothing completely ridiculous has happened yet.

A lot of the interesting stuff in this book is conceptual. The way people think and are dependent on the system, ethics and morality when it comes to other peoples stuff and accepting new realities among other things. Looking at people with a variety of perspectives instead of just folks who all think the same conservative/ religious and or libertarian train of thought is interesting. [I also don't miss the long rants about the federal reserve or entitlements or whatever that are present in many books.] Maybe not as cool as making improvised explosives to blow up a convoy of raiders or first person shooter style gun porn but probably more thought provoking.

Anyway I am eager to continue reading this book. If you are looking for something with a bit of a different perspective, Stacey's Quest may be the book for you. Things are still in the works but we should be giving away a copy pretty soon.







Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review: Our End Of The Lake by Ron Foster

This book is about a middle aged “prepper” who finds himself far from home after a natural EMP (Carrington event, sun spots, whatever). He is at a job interview in Atlanta when the whole event kicks off. The main character and his new boss (just got hired by FEMA) are busy getting day drunk to celebrate his new employment. He walks out of Atlanta towards the west with the bouncer from the bar. The main character immediately begins acquiring things that do not belong to him to aid in his survival and trip west.


Along the way they meet some people and get drunk with them. He gets a nice little .380 by trading money  he knows is worthless that he acquired from an abandoned semi with the bouncers relative. Shortly therafter he gets an operational tractor in a lopsided deal and uses it to drive the rest of the way home. He makes it home to Montgomery and his elderly mother, ex girlfriend (who is a “prepper” and they are still close) and some other acquaintances. After some hanging out and drinking they decide that they need to bug out because things are going to get dangerous. They proceed to “acquire” a couple more operational vehicles and then the whole tribe heads out to some lake.

They get there and via a friend he made earlier and take over a few houses for everybody to live in. After getting to the lake they begin systematically searching empty homes for food, booze and things that they can use. They also find a couple boats to use. Along the way they start making friends and setting up some means of trade and small scale commerce. Anyway now I will get to the usual format.

The Good: It was a fun easy read. Also this is a pretty nice vision of a genuine end of the world event. Travel around, take whatever you want and get drunk pretty much every day.  This book portrayed people in a generally positive light which is sort of refreshing. Many survival type books have everyone turn into rapist cannibal murderers if the power goes out for an hour. On the other hand as far as I recall not a single bad thing happened in the book, not violent conflict or even a nasty accident or illness which probably isn't realistic either.

Also the book did have some pretty good primitive living/ outdoor skills stuff. It was sort of awkwardly placed in and at some points it seemed like 2 pages of a random wilderness survival book were accidentally inserted to the story but it was good none the less. I have a good background in this stuff and I picked up a thing or two.

The Bad:  A significant part of the book was pretty much a big cocktail party. It didn’t really have a purpose in the book. To a certain degree this is a reflection of actual human behavior like hurricane parties and such and I didn’t really mind it. I’ve passed more than one power outage with a few folks and a case of beer. However to me about the time when I pull a rifle out of the safe because the world is going crazy it is time for the party to slow down or stop entirely. At one point he is visiting a guy and they have a few beers. He goes to leave and the guy hands him a cold 6 pack for the rest of the trip. Not saying I have always been perfectly responsible in that regard but it was a bit much. While they are could represent human behaviors as folks do tend to hit the bottle or whatever more in bad time,  getting hammered every night and driving drunk are not the best plans for a survival situation.

Also the author seems to have a need to use the words “prepper” and “72 hour bag” a lot. I wish I had a count on how many times each phrase was used. It wasn’t quite The Survivalist style needless repetition but it did get old.

The Ugly: We could debate looting vs. scavenging or whatever (got a post brewing about that) but in any case they take everything they want which isn’t nailed down or guarded. In any case as Suburban Survivalist said “there is enough looting to make Jim Rawles go catatonic.” According to the main character everything that they find is abandoned and they need it so it is free game. At one point they break into an auto shop to take a pair of ATV’s. 

Also they went to a “bug out” to a place where they did not own any property or have an agreement with those who did. They made an agreement (one in a long series of totally lopsided, convenient and essential agreements in this book) with a homeowner once they got there but I am not sure if they planned to just squat or what the exact deal was.  It could have been touched on and I missed it but they occupied several houses which they did not own or compensate the conveniently absent owners for.

 In any case after they occupy a few houses at the lake they begin systematically breaking into and searching every empty house for things they can use. In fairness to the characters in the book they seem to not have a problem with other folks taking everything that isn’t nailed down so at least they are not hypocrites which is good. Regardless of ones take on looting vs. scavenging in real life I suspect a group of people who acted that way could realistically face some consequences.

Conclusion: For the price of $8ish I thought it was a decent value for my entertainment dollar. I got a few things out of it and it provoked some ideas. I don’t regret reading it but doubt I will read it again.




Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review- The Western Front Part 1

I read The Western Front Part 1 last night. The basic plot is that southern Texas is facing a defacto border war with Mexican drug cartel's. The economy is on the verge of collapse and the dollar is not doing well. The book follows a few characters including a rancher and a Texas guardsmen (of sorts) through this ugly scenario.

Part 1 of this book is pretty realistic and entertaining. I was pleasantly suprised that the frequent tangent rants which can happen in this sort of book were not present. At 60 pages it was a quick read. The scene was set and things got going just enough to hook me. I can't wait for part two.

Since this novel is being released in parts I am going to hold off on the traditional review format until the end. In any case I enjoyed The Western Front Part 1 and recommend it to readers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: Without Rule of Law by Joe Nobody

Today we will be reviewing Without Rule of Law by Joe Nobody. This book talks about how to assemble basic equipment consisting of (there is some discrepancy in the "line" concept between what he uses and what I am used to) your chest rig/ web gear, a rucksack and an assault pack put together with mission specific stuff. The book is broken into 4 sections about hiding, escape and evasion, infiltration and scavenging.

The Good: One of Joe Nobody's advantages is that he has no military experience (unless I missed something). Folks like myself, AP, John Mosby and Lizard Farmer spend half of our time explaining the terms and acronym's we use and inevitably miss a few. The way we talk is corrupted like people who live out in the Swamp and rarely come to town (nothing personal to folks in the Bayoo, I like you just fine but it was an arbitrary example and could have easily been mountains/ desert or whatever) so it is often hard for civilians to understand what the heck we are saying. Since Joe does not have this problem ordinary folks with no experience in the ground components of our armed forces (Army and Marines as well as some onesies and twosies elsewhere) will know what he is talking about.

Also at the end of each chapter (the sections have chapters) there is an exercise or two. These exercises logically flow from the subject of the chapter. The exercise for a chapter on putting together your web gear/ chest rig is to make a checklist of what your rig is, laminate it and keep it with your kit. A solid plan, especially for those items like weapons or electronics like a GPS or NVG which may be stored elsewhere. I especially appreciate that most of the exercises involve actually doing something. It is not "think about X, Y, Z" but "make a meal with the stuff from your kit" or something else that gets you out, using your gear and doing things.

While there were some tangents, both valuable and of questionable worth, the book sticks to a pretty concrete organization that makes sense. Some small how to's slip in with context and elements of operational planning (squad level) work their way in throughout the book.

Also Joe does a good job of touching on gear without getting bogged down that you need a Tan XYS Pouch from SammySeal industries or whatever.

The Bad: Some of the topics covered like camoflage really don't lend themselves well to a book. This is compounded by the use of terrible black and white pictures to illustrate points. I would say to either figure it out to print decent quality color pictures or cut out the pics that are too greyish and pixelized to be useful.

Joe seems to have a weird obsession with time. "Do a test to see how long you need to poop in the woods" and consider this in your operational planning. His desire to put small and nonimportant things into a timeline for an event baffles me. You need to plan a realistic timeline for the whole event that includes any hard times as well as plans involving other people or organizations. The best way to do this is to work backwards from when you want to be somewhere to figure out when you need to start preparing to go, when you need to leave and some timehacks in the middle to follow your progress. You do not need to figure out that of the 30 minutes you give yourself between waking up and starting the final packing list layout you will spend 5 minutes staring at the alarm clock wishing you could sleep another hour, 5 minutes using the toilet, 2 minutes washing your hands, 3 minutes brushing your teeth, 10 minutes drinking coffee, and 5 minutes getting dressed. In my opinion having been involved with numerous operations in training and the real world this is a utter waste of time.

This is odd because it links with a compliment from above. While Joe does a good job of not getting bogged down in Geardoisms at times more information would have been helpful. Joe talked about how cool a "survival net" is a lot and kept coming back to it. He has a serious net crush. Anyway I got to thinking this is kind of a cool thing and maybe I want one. Dude didn't mention a link or a model or even a brand. He mentioned all kinds of specifics but nothing I could put into google to find one and buy it.

I disagree with Joe on the composition of some of gear. Not going to debate point by point but there were times he suggested this or that and I disagree. In particular the chest rig he mentions carries TWO magazines, leaving you with three including the one in the gun. Personally that is far too few for my comfort.

[I think 3 mags is a decent home defense load but if I had to go outside or was going on some sort of trip/ mission I would carry at least 3 times that. You go through ammo so much faster than people who haven't experienced it would think. If the ammo is too heavy I recommend losing some weight off your middle and doing more running/ rucking. The argument of "I'm not looking for a fight" is to me invalid. First of all what you are looking for bears little relationship to what you might get. Second of all you aren't bringing a rifle because you think things are going really well.]

Ugly: In some areas I think Joe is reaching to the edge of, or past, his knowledge base in the writing of this book. Not saying he isn't a smart and skilled guy. Just that he may have at times ventured a bit too far from those areas. The saying "write about what you know" comes to mind here.

Discussion: A good section of this book is devoted to talking about finding and taking stuff. Stuff that doesn't necessarily belong to another person but certainly does not belong to you. Some folks call this looting and a lot of people would call it theft. I have seen other reviews for this book that are pretty critical of this.

Personally this section does not bother me. I am pragmatic so separating the head knowledge on how to do something from the ethical considerations and ultimately decision to do it is not an issue. In other words it might be useful to know how to do something even if I never decide to do it. However some folks might take offense at this. Joe doesn't go into detail on his ethical thought process or whatever but on this topic. However considering roughly 1/4 of this book is on the topic his views could probably be guessed.

Overall impression: I would recommend this book for folks without a military/ tactical background interested in some basic information on gear, camoflage and fieldcraft and some light operational planning. These folks could pay full price and probably be happy with the book. They will get a lot out of it though I do recommend they use it as a starting point, not a finishing point. Folks who have some experience in military fieldcraft, patrolling and basic operational planning (typically an Infantry type background) might want to avoid paying full price. These folks will likely get something from the book (I did) but it is better to pick up a used copy or borrow one from a friend to find out.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Books Worth Reading: Guerilla War and Insurgencies

I was talking to a fellow recently who asked me about potentially putting together some sort of book list. I guess this is the first in the series though if you dig through past book reviews you could get some ideas. Maybe at some point I will make a stand alone page or something.

I really enjoyed On Guerilla Warfare by Che Guevara. Yeah the guy was a Commie but he fought a successful guerilla war. I have nothing in common with his beliefs or goals but I got a lot out of his writing. Now that I have a bit of a sense of the man (assuming he wasn't dead) it would be interesting to sit on a patio with a good bottle of run for an evening and discuss all manner of things. Definitely some lessons to be learned here. It is a quick read and I got a lot out of it. Definitely worth reading.

I also read Mao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare. A total pedo and generally a terrible person but he did execure a successful insurgency against the Japanese then took control of China and kept it. This one is relatively long at 128 pages. It has that Oriental way of talking in a circular fashion around subjects. All the same I got some stuff from it.

Over the deployment I read and really enjoyed The Other Side of the Mountain. At some point you will see a review on it (I think it got stashed for a rainy day). The book is a sort of Soviet after action review from the side of the Afghan guerilla fighters. These two Soviet guys tracked down and talked to a bunch of former Afghan guerilla fighters and leaders. It is pretty long, some of the vignettes are redundant or boring and the maps are next to useless (I have absolutely no artistic skills and could make better maps after drinking a half bottle of Whiskey) but it is very worth reading. The insight of highly motivated and poorly equipped guerillas fighting a well equipped mechanized fighting force that has way too much ground to cover and varying motivation is very interesting.

The first book in the "series" The Bear Went Over The Mountain is also worth checking out. The guy I borrowed it from said it was best read while drinking vodka in a smoky bar. It was very interesting to me when I read it prior to deployment to Afghanistan. Maybe less interesting to most folks who read this site than the second book but reading one probably helps to gain understanding of the other.

Anyway that is some of what I have been up to in terms of reading. If you are interested in insurgencies or have been thinking G thoughts then checking some of these out (all PDF and thus FREE!) would be a good idea.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review Trudge Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

This book and the second in the series “Soldier On” are written by Shawn Chesser. I am going to discuss/ review them together because it is just easier that way.

They are pretty much your quintessential zombie/ doomer porn type book. The basic plot is that a man is traveling across the country to find his family during a Zombie Apocalypse. A cynical person might say the author took “The Survivalist” series and added zombies. The main character is that a former special operations type, who used to be in an organization that rhymes with Shmenta Farce. They live in Portland, Oregon and his family went on vacation in South Carolina and he decides to go find and save them. The first book begins with the initial outbreak and ends at a logical break while he in inland West searching for his family. The second book takes off more or less where the first ended and finishes shortly after he is reunited with his family in Colorado. The plot leaves me with some solid ideas on where book three is going and it should be good. [I actually got confused and read them out of order but the second book does a good enough job catching you up that I got caught up enough for it to be OK which is always good. Also they aren’t exactly what you would call super deep.]

The Good: They are light, fast paced and entertaining. The action is consistent but pretty realistic. One guy doesn’t kill 30 dudes with guns who are shooting at him in an open field or head shoot 200 zombies in a row, no matter what his background is. Guns need to be reloaded and people run out of ammunition.
Also I appreciated that the books are quite fairly priced at 3-4 dollars for the kindle versions. Given the length and type of book they are I though it was a good value for my entertainment dollar. I do not think a physical book is available.

The main characters made use of back roads and forest service roads to get around. Certainly your best shot for travel in that sort of scenario. Also they used some basic convoy methods and had impromptu plans for communication (albeit on an open channel) which was smart, especially for a cobbled together group.
The main character uses an AR-15 and Glock 9mm’s pistols. Clearly he is a man of taste and distinction. I know it is dumb but I kind of like that they used guns I like.

The Bad: That the core of the book is that a guy decides to travel all the way across the country during the Zombie Apocalypse to find his wife and kid is a little bit implausible to me. I just don’t see that working for so many reasons. A nice sentiment and all but it is too ridiculous.

Also the supposed connection the character has, and the favors they get him are just not realistic. He a bit too conveniently always stumbled into an old buddy who can move mountains to assist him. Even for a guy who has better than average connections and a crazy time where folks bend our totally break rules it is just a bit too convenient. . I have a decent idea what kind of favors one can pull off and my BS detector was going off like crazy.

The Ugly: There really isn’t any ugly. If you are expecting a literary masterpiece you will face disappointment. One needs to realize that this is a definite nitche area and most folks in it are not professional book writers. For $4 doomer porn it is pretty solid.

Recommendation: It wouldn’t be my first recommendation for preparedness/ survivalism/ zombie fiction. However if you have worked through most of the more popular titles it is worth looking at. I didn’t really draw any lessons out of it but it was entertaining and fun to read. For the price it is well worth it but if you can get a copy free that is even better. Barnes and Noble promotional codes might save some change on more zombie or survival books.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review Shatter by TC Sherry

This is book two of the deep winter series. To recap the last book began in the winter with a massive earthquake and ended with some other problems. This book sort of skims over the tail end of winter and covers the spring and summer. During this book bad turns into worse. It becomes apparent that the Spokane region and the PNW in general are not going to receive help from the outside and things are not going to return to any sort of old normal.

The Good: This book, as well as the previous book, lays out a compelling vision for a very bad future.
To me it is sort of a “and then what” kind of book. So things went to heck in a hand basket, you get stuff set up initially and after a couple months most of the looters have been naturally selected AND THEN WHAT. Folks start figuring out how to feed themselves in the long term, trade, reorganize society and move forward. That is what this book is about.

MILD SPOILER ALERT FOR THE NEXT COUPLE LINES.
Basically in the first book after the earthquake things internationally then nationally go to hell in a hand basket. The dollar collapses and there is war.  In this book things get even worse, and then worse again, like dealing with all that had happened in the first one wouldn’t be enough.
END SPOILER ALERT

The book brought up some interesting stuff when it comes to property rights, scavenging and ethics. What has been bothering me in a couple books I have read recently, and to some degree the first book in this series is hypocrisy. In this book the main characters actions on the whole were IMO were pretty close to what they expected from others. I won’t say that I agreed with every thing that happened but on the whole it wasn’t offensive and was very thought provoking so that was good.

I think this issue gets complicated if there is a significant die off or long term population shift. There are definitely more questions than easy answers as far as I am concerned. If folks are dead or gone and heirs are not able to be located who does the property belong to? If your neighbor was visiting his cousin in Maine and the balloon goes up at what point do you decide he isn’t coming back? What happens to his stuff?
I think it is pretty clear that stuff which belongs to people who are present or realistically may be present is theirs. However if things get nuts enough that big companies fall apart and such who do their buildings, stores and equipment belong to? Some level of nationalization albeit at a city or county level is likely, at least with this sort of stuff and is probably fairly ethical.

I liked that government didn’t magically go away. It is really a pipe dream to think that some sort of government won’t exist, especially at the local level of city and county. It will hopefully change and help set the conditions for people to take care of their selves, or at least not cause any real problems in a new world though it could get nasty and totalitarian.

In this book there was a sort of barter network that morphed into a sort of general store. For somebody with a knack for that sort of thing, access to a suitable space and some stuff to sort of seed the effort it might not be a bad idea to take some notes about that part. That people were more interactive vs just staying at their homes alone was good I think. People have a tendency to be social animals and it is difficult if not impossible to produce everything you could need or want. It definitely reinforced the desirability of being able to produce, above and beyond your own needs, something which people want.

Personally I do not stock things specifically for barter. However that is at least in part because I am not quite there yet. If one was so inclined they could probably do pretty well with a few hundred dollars of the right stuff. Stuff like kerosene, lamps, .22 LR and small game shotgun loads, sewing stuff, matches, booze, etc.
This book is a good reminder that in many ways local government is more important than at a higher level. To paraphrase Ragnar Benson the county zoning or agricultural commission is far more likely to cause problems in your life than men dressed in black carrying MP-5’s from an alphabet soup agency. This is probably far truer in a long term serious situation as they will have a lot more freedom to maneuver. Bad local governments could turn into little fiefdom’s or Stalinist collective experiments very easily.  It was also illustrated in the book that if people don’t stand up to these things as a group they will inevitably get dealt with piece mill and picked off accordingly.

The Bad:
There was a distinct flavor of population and resource control. Think checkpoints and fuel usage restrictions, curfews, etc. I think these would likely be reality in this sort of situation but it isn’t something I particularly like.
Checkpoints I think would be a fine idea, probably a necessity so long as they didn’t hamper the free movement of individuals in the area and allowed some sort of through passage through for those who need to get someplace. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way that there were passes for people who were deemed special which of course included the main characters. Personally in that situation I would be awful curious about who the heck decided which people were special and what the heck they thought gave them the right to say they could move around freely but I could not. They really didn’t go into detail on exactly what these restrictions were or how they affected people who, unlike the main characters, were not deemed to be special, so I can’t say if I really have an issue parse.

Fuel restrictions I have a hard time with. Now if the local government has fuel and is distributing it then some prioritization to EMS, food production, etc makes sense. However telling someone what they can do with fuel they have is another thing. If someone has a 300 gallon fuel tank in the barn and a 74 stingray and wants to go drag racing down their driveway it really isn’t anybodies business but theirs and their neighbors.
A few things happened that were just a little bit too convenient. The main characters stumbled into some stuff in a way that was awful darn lucky. Not so much as to really mess up the book but enough not to show the benefits of having some things squared away beforehand or the downsides of not having them squared away.
The author talks badly about politicians and government officials who are anything other than perfect public servants and folks who said public positions carry privilege. However the main character definitely uses his position to his advantage a few times getting favoritism or special treatment that Joe down the block wouldn’t. It was government choosing winners and losers at a small local scale. Nothing nasty parse, more like good old boy stuff.

The Ugly:
Not really anything ugly about the book in the usual sense that something is worse than the bad. However the book did expose (which is a good thing and thus doesn’t really belong in the bad part) a couple of ugly and very real possibilities. The first is that a default on our debt would cause all sorts of international problems. It is the kind of thing that starts wars. Even if our country fell apart we have a huge and awesome military. Somebody who thought we were weakened and that they could take advantage or attack our allies might be making a very serious mistake. Even if we were pretty tired and confused we could wipe the floor with most countries.

The next is that some places would try to continue suckling from the teat of government. Big, blue rustbelt and New England cities come to mind.

Lastly the balance of government would go all out of whack. Everyone more or less marches to the same drum in normal times and any pull from individual organizations or departments is canceled out by checks and balances or equaled out by pull from other organizations. However as people and agencies had competing visions, conflict over resources and such things might get crazy. The usually boring game of whose budget and staffing will go up by 3%, whose will stay the same and who might (though it rarely happens) face cuts could turn into serious infighting, like 3rd world stuff. Also in a die off scenario the whole line of succession thing could fall apart pretty easily leaving the US without a clear leader.

The vision of massive cascade failures laid out in this series is compelling, disturbing and seemingly plausible. I was familiar with that concept but had never heard the phrase before.

In closing I enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers. It is definitely worth paying $5 for the electronic edition.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review Deep Winter By Thomas Shelly

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.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review Lights Out by David Crawford

I am a bit tired and kind of out of it so if this post is a bit more disorganized and erratic than usual that is why. This book follows a middle aged man, his friends, family and neighbors through a grid down (EMP) event. The setting is Texas and while they don’t get into exact dates it occurs in contemporary times. Now we will go on to the usual format for these things.

The Good: This book was quite entertaining. I read it over the course of a couple days and was quite drawn into it. The story line was interesting, the characters believable and the plot (except parts we will discuss later) was generally realistic. The characters in the book were not some super hero’s (at least for the most part) who had seemingly been training their whole lives for the Zombie Apocalypse but average folks with an average range of skills.

I also appreciate that a lot of the “action” was in and around vehicles. This is quite realistic as well, that is how Americans get around (and will unless there is no fuel) so it is worth thinking how you would fight out of a civilian vehicle (vs a HMMWV or MRAP or Bradley with a crew served weapon and armored frame). Food for thought.

I really liked that the author did not get sucked into it being a walking product advertisement for his favorite kit, firearms, etc. Especially in the area of firearms this was noticeable. Different characters had different preferences and aside from generic observations such as semi automatic rifles are better for defense than bolt and lever guns, .308’s are good at punching holes in stuff, etc there were no caliber/ weapons platform soap box moments. Also there was never a moment where only a whiz banger 72 with a XXXX optic, YYY bullets and numerous other specific accessories (all of which the main character happened to have, how lucky) fit the bill and perfectly carried the situation. That was a breath of fresh air from other survivalist fiction.
The book also had some good ideas about getting organization going among a group of people in a disaster situation. Nothing revolutionary or new parse but some of the incidents that happen would make for interesting “what would you do” vignettes or discussion questions. The old leadership trick of convincing people that what you want them to do is their own idea came up more than a couple times.

The Bad: Early on and even throughout the book it was awful hard to keep track of the characters. I think that they were a little too shallow in developing them or maybe they exposed too many too fast, I am not sure. At one point just into the book I thought there was some swinging action going on between the two sets of main characters then I realized I couldn’t keep track of them. Maybe the fact that I haven’t slept much lately made that worse. In any case I decided to stop trying as it wasn’t really significant any way and just went with it.

The Ugly: 3 things stuck out as downright ugly and I will go through them in the order they appeared in the book.

First the way things go down the main characters do the vast majority of their preparing after an EMP goes off and kills the grid. They were able to keep going to the grocery store, which was being restocked, for a prolonged period of time which allowed them to stock up on staple foods. Also they were able to acquire a wide variety of different things during this timeframe. How exactly that situation would develop could be debated but this seems idealistic. I suspect it is a way to show how they became prepared and it allowed the main characters to not be hard core survivalists (though they were tactically trained and hunters, with solid gun collections which is not totally unusual but still a bit convenient) but also not starve to death.

Furthermore going along with this they were able to pay cash for items which I suspect would become very valuable very quickly like seeds, ammo, fencing supplies, etc. Again it was necessary for the book to work but still awful convenient and potentially misleading. I don’t know that things would go all Mad Max overnight (at least outside of massive urban centers) but I lean towards a more restricted supply situation a la Jericho or maybe One Second After. To his credit the author did work in how it would have been a lot more convenient for them to get this stuff earlier a few times but this whole part was just unbelievable to me. I had to ignore it to continue reading and enjoying the book.

Second I think this book might have been edited by the ACLU and some sort of womens rights group prior to publication. The main characters paused regularly to discuss feminist views and worry about women’s rights. When they were making committees for different areas one woman demanded that a woman be put onto a committee based solely on gender. We will call this gal Quota Girl. Quota girl somehow ended up in charge of all kinds of stuff for her “organizational abilities” and to be honest it just made me sick. They were more concerned with her feelings than having things work well. Also Quota Girl did no actual work and was a huge pain in the butt to the men she supervised who actually did work.

Furthermore I the author clearly made an intentional effort to have a nice, positive character portrayed in a great light of every reasonable ethnicity you could think of. It was ridiculous. Even more disturbingly all bad people were either race neutral or white guys of rural backgrounds. I’m not saying us honkey’s aren’t capable of some bad things but shoving every evil deed in a book off onto us is a bit much.

Lastly there was a classic hypocrisy when it comes to other peoples stuff. Call it theft, spoils of war, whatever but the main characters talk about how they respect everyones right to property and chastise minor characters for considering to acquire anything but then take all sorts of stuff they happen to find. There was some minimal justification but it was a load of BS, the least authors could do is have their characters own up to and be honest about their actions. Even more ridiculous the main characters go to great lengths to vilify bad guys for their treatment of people and then use them as slaves. This was just nuts.

These criticisms aside I did enjoy the book and get some things out of it. Made me think a lot about my current priorities and shift some things around a bit. I would recommend it but would suggest you scheme to avoid paying full price.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review: Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American prospects by Dimitry Orlov

This book discusses the Soviet collapse (loosely moving between the end of the USSR and their economic hyperinflationary collapse a few years later, more on this in a bit). It compares and contrasts what could be called the Soviet model with current and possible future events in America. In doing so the book looks at where we may be going. I read it on my kindle but am sure you can get it in a physical format if you so desire. Anyway let us get onto the usual format.

The Good: It was a quick, easy read. The author did a bang up job of speaking on complicated issues in clear language without jargon or scienceinese (the language scientists speak and none of the rest of us understand).  Somebody smart once said that if you can’t explain an idea to an average man on the street then you do not really understand it. By that standard Dimitry Orlov really understands the themes and ideas that make up the subject matter for this book. For a nonfiction book it reads rather casually, part because of the clear simple language used and part because it is interwoven with stories of his experiences and anecdotal tales. In the closing comments he said (more of less) that he tried to keep it light and enjoyable and I would say he did a great job. The information on the Soviet economy and collapse was outstanding. Also the way it was written hit the man on the street angle as well as the bigger picture of what was happening. This balancing act was probably hard and he did a great job of it. I learned a lot about how the Soviet economy worked, failed to work and fell apart in this book.

The Bad: It is abundantly clear to me that the author looks at the Soviet union through some rose colored glasses. I don’t know a ton about the USSR/ Russia’s history but he seemed to have an awful positive memory. Furthermore I found him willing to sweep America with a broadly critical brush that is probably not deserved. The words “if you liked it so much then why didn’t you stay there” came to mind and maybe out of my mouth a few times. If he would have been glowing or rough to both sides it would have made a lot more sense. This almost discredited an otherwise quality book for me.
The author could not seem to make up his mind between talking about the fall of the USSR and the Russian economic collapse a few years later. Of course both events were linked but the way he talked about them flipping back and forth randomly was confusing and in my mind not particularly logical. I’m not sure if he was trying to pad the book a bit, in any case it was distracting.

The Ugly: At points I found the book to be full of contradictions. He can’t seem to decide if there is going to be an economic collapse and hyperinflation or if things are going to go all Mad Max and stick with one idea. Much of his claim rests on peak oil theory which is, while not as discredited as global warming, certainly a subject that could be debated. This goes back to the point before that the events he is claiming will or are happening do not seem to logically lead to the conclusion he goes to. Maybe my reading missed something.
More so than any comparable book (Kustner, FerFAL, etc) I found this to be depressingly low on concrete ideas to prepare for the scenario the author lays out. He mentions how you might want to buy some compact tangibles such as soap and razor blades and that having a home with a bit of land to grow a garden that is paid off is a good idea. Aside from a few vagaries the book is awful long on problem and short on solution.  I’ve been told never to bring somebody a problem without an idea for a solution, apparently Dimitry Orlov hasn’t heard that one.

Now for some discussion in no particular order:
-One compelling and disturbing point was brought up. A significant reason the Russian economic collapse was so calm was that everyone’s residence was owned by the state so nobody got evicted. Sure they shared an apartment with a 12 member 3 generation family but at least they had a roof and walls that was not tied to any need for income. In America pretty much everyone’s residence is tied to a need for continued income, if just to pay the property taxes. That kept their homeless population to a real minimum which contributed a lot to stability. I do not know a lot of people in America who would still be in their home after a year or two if their savings/ investments were wiped away and their job lost. I am not sure what would happen if America had that sort of structurally high unemployment. However if our current situation is any indicator it would favor banksters and large residential property owners (who are typically quite well off) not average down on his luck Joe 6 pack. Massive homelessness would be a huge tragedy for a lot of people and cause significant instability. When people think (maybe accurately) that they have nothing to lose they are very dangerous.
- I think it is not possible to make a lot of comparison’s in an ‘apples to apples’ way because so much was going on in the USSR and Russia during that period. All of the events happening make direct cause and effect impossible in some cases, at least IMO. I would say a lot of the chaos and the rise of a massive criminal underworld was the result of communism or the wild west collapse of communism. Unless there are significant tariff’s, price controls or truly punitive taxes put into place I do not see the kind of massive underworld that appeared in Russia happening. There is no need to buy $25 soap from a sketchy dude in an alley when you can get it from the neighborhood store.  The existence of a relatively free market and its inherent ability to adapt readily negates some points the author made.
- Also for a lot of reasons I do not see the kind of massive corruption that took place in Russia happening, it just is not part of our culture, well except maybe Dem’s in Illinois. I do believe we could fall a rung down the proverbial corruption ladder but not to where Russia was/ is.
-As for the idea of a lot of laws and regulations being almost removed by the default of non enforcement I am not so sure. Unfortunately I think the answer is that laws will stay on the books and either every once in awhile somebody will get hammered for running an unlicensed business, dodging taxes, etc. This is not a huge deal as the odds of it being you are low. Another possibility is that laws will just be enforced selectively based upon various personal and political motives. Given the way the pendulum has swung recently that would be bad for most people who read this blog, especially the ones who are publicly outspoken. That the New Black Panthers can openly and brazenly intimidate white voters with weapons and face no consequences but an active conservative type will get hammered for a parking ticket or the like could be seen as a glimpse into the future.
In closing I do think this book is worth reading even though it does have some rough spots. The info and background on the Russian collapse was very interesting and though provoking. Heck I would go as far as to say it is worth paying retail price for if you can’t borrow a copy.

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