Since I first read Bill’s fantastic Lightning Falls, I’ve gotten into PAW (Post-Apocalypse World, for the uninitiated) fiction in a big way, thanks to the indispensable Kindle Unlimited virtual lending library. There’s some great, entertaining stuff to be found in the genre, although some books on the topic read like little more than overlong shopping and honey-do lists for survivalists and preppers. Useful for some in a purely practical sense, maybe, but not exactly what I’m looking for in a work of fiction.
NC Reed’s Fire From The Sky series—now up to volume nine or ten, I believe, every one of which I’ve read—is particularly gripping stuff, as is everything else he’s written…all of which I’ve also read and loved.
Reed is an extremely skillful writer, especially so when it comes to creating believable, very human characters and exploring the relationships between them. He’s a Tennessee boy, as are the characters in the Sanders saga, and his dialogue is as real as hot cornbread in a cast-iron skillet. Southern dialect is actually a surprisingly difficult thing to pull off convincingly; many otherwise fine authors have tried and failed embarrassingly at it. Reed’s only real problem is by no means an unusual one these days, one that isn’t really his fault either: the editing is a little, ummm, off here and there. It’s by no means horrible or frequent enough to set your molars a-grinding in fury over it, mind, but it can be a mite distracting occasionally. That minor quibble aside, though, I can’t recommend Reed’s stuff highly enough.
Matt Bracken’s Enemies Foreign And Domestic trilogy, which I’ve mentioned enthusiastically here before, certainly deserves another mention. If you aren’t familiar with his excellent work, well, you need to fix that. Fran Porretto’s brilliant Spooner Federation Saga books are worthy of mention too, although they don’t fit so neatly into the PAW pirgeonhole as the others.
The past few days I’ve found myself totally engrossed in what’s looking like a real masterpiece of the PAW genre: Dogsoldiers, by a fella yclept James Tarr. Tarr, it turns out, also co-authored Carnivore, a good Gulf War memoir by Bradley IFV commander Dillard Johnson. I was sent a copy of Carnivore for review purposes when it first came out, although I can’t recall now if I ever did get around to posting a review here or not.
Dogsoldiers is some damned tasty stuff, a truly outstanding book. The tale is set in near-future Detroit, centering on a pivotal battle in the decade-long civil war waged by a slowly-weakening US federal tyranny against the ragtag, mostly disorganized, and chronically underequipped resistance of freedom fighters referred to in the title. Tarr’s writing is top-notch; the story isn’t marred by any of the uneven or downright sloppy editing that frequently blunts the impact of ebooks for some reason.
In fact, the reason I brought all this up in the first damned place is because the book struck me as plenty good enough to post some excerpts from it here. Our first passage has one of the Good Guy characters—Early, a grizzled, hardcore veteran originally from JawJa—enlightening a shavetail Dogsoldier volunteer, Jason, on some of the harsher realities of life during CW 2.0:
“Why don’t we take prisoners? Why were Weasel and George killing their wounded?”
Early looked and saw the teenager was seriously bothered. “Well, there’s two answers to that. First one is…where would we take them? It’s not like we’ve got a base. Or vehicles to transport them. We wander around, causing trouble, living in empty houses and borrowed basements, and then when the cold rolls in either do more of the same or we hol’ up with friends or relatives or in our own houses, far away from the trouble.”
“We could let them live, let the Army treat their injuries.”
Early nodded. “And that’s the other part of it. At the start of the war we let them be, tried to do the civilized thing. Let the Tabs recover their wounded. Not now. Not after ten years. Because they just keep coming back, like the tide. At this point we’ve all realized we’re in a war of attrition—that means neither side is going to surrender, the war only ends when one side has been ground down so much they’ve got no one left who can fight. They’ve had their chance. Any Tabs still fighting are either too mean or too stupid to know they’re on the side of evil.”
“And after the war? In any other war, you capture POWs, at the end of the war you send ‘em home. Which is somewhere else, a whole ‘nother country. Over there somewhere.” He waved his hand vaguely. “After World War II the Germans were sent back to Germany, where they could be Germans, and be nowhere near us. That’s not what this war is. The Tabs live here; win or lose, they’re not going anywhere. Even if they’re not fightin’, and we’re all peaceable and neighborly, they’ll still believe the same things that caused the war in the first place—socialism, communism, vegan grocery bags, twenty-seven genders, guns are evil, America has never been great, never hit back, government should be in charge of everything, all of it. That’s not peace or victory, that’s just a temporary ceasefire. Their beliefs aren’t just evil, they’re a poison, a cancer, a rot. Winning doesn’t just mean the war stops, we want to have a healthy country after all this.”
“It ain’t pretty, son. It ain’t even nice. Maybe it’s our own brand of evil. You don’ like it? Good. That means you’ve got a soul. But it’s the only way we not just win the war, but win the peace afterward.”
Naaah, THAT doesn’t sound like it has any contemporary relevance at all, does it? Pure escapist fiction, no practical reality to be found there, nossir. But this next excerpt cuts even closer to the bone that that, if you can believe it. It’s gonna be a long ‘un, so I’ll tuck it down below the fold and out of the way.