Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The REVIEW of Black Tide Rising


John Ringo; Gary Poole (2016-06-07).  Baen. Kindle Edition.

John Ringo is one of the most insanely prolific writers out there. While I was looking for my coffee cup this morning, he wrote seven or eight books, and they are all going to be best sellers.
The only problem with that, is that he was eating all the meat! There wasn't anything left, because John was writing it. So, he got nice on us, and opened up the world.

The result is Black Tide Rising.

Here's the background: an unknown evil genius used SCIENCE to combine two diseases into one. You can get infected either by air-borne transmission, or by direct contact, and in most cases, the next thing you feel are flu symptoms. Those are followed by the sensation of something crawling all over you, so you rip off your clothes, and then the second stage of the disease kicks in: rabies. You loose your ability to reason, and bite anyone you can reach.There is no cure. However, by taking material from the spine of infected primates (which quickly became humans, as the monkey supply was inadequate), a two-stage vaccine was possible.

On land, most of civilization disintegrated immediately. At sea, a determined family and friends formed a nucleus of hope.

It was hard on everybody.

This volume contains, if I have done my counting correctly, 12 stories by 14 authors. At least, there are 14 author biographies at the back of the book. When I ripped through my count, I didn't see Gary Poole's name attached to a story, but he is the co-editor of the anthology with John Ringo, and has also written some preliminary material.

Confession time: I absolutely LOVE this series! So, when I got the book, I ripped through it in one setting. And that means that this particular review is going to take me a LONG time to write, since I'm going to re-read every story in order to make the correct comments. All of the stories are about ordinary people, although some have already been radically changed by conditions. Others are just facing the plague as it hits. Some of the stories are upbeat; others are miserable in tone; some aren't really stories in which something happens, but just thought-pieces in which the characters reveal how the apocalypse has impacted them. Here's my prejudice (one of them; one I'm aware of) up front: I like stories in which good guys win. I don't like stories in which the last good guy gets shot by the rescue squad after standing off evil dead all night long.


Story 1: Never Been Kissed, by John Ringo. Here's a kicker for ya: Faith, who is the epitome of the action hero, who has done more for the morale of her team than anyone else: cleans her weapons. That's it. And while she's doing that, she talks about one of the small rites of passage the holocaust has stripped away.

Story 2: Up on the Roof, by Eric Flint. Old blue-collar workers trapped in Chicago have to figure out a way to survive, or they might as well cut their throats. Their solution is to take refuge on the top of gigantic storage tanks. Initially, the problem isn't how to deal with the zombies, but how to incorporate late-comers, since not everyone comes with the same degree of preparedness.

Story 3: Staying Human, by Jody Lynn Nye. A woman who has become an effective part of a Hunter-Killer couple always keeps a lookout for the mail carrier who turned, and killed her wife and son. When the scientists think they may have a treatment that will reverse the neurological effects of the virus, she has to choose.

Story 4: On the Wall, by John Sclazi & Dave Klecha. This is a slice of life story, I suppose; or maybe it isn't. I didn't bother to look up the definition, although I did re-read the story. It's funny, in an irritating way. There are two guys pulling guard duty on the wall: Jim, who seems reasonable competent, and Keith, who just comes across to me as an obnoxious dork. Maybe I'm missing the point entirely, but this story leaves me wondering if, after the end of the world as we know it, I would shoot somebody just because they were irritating. I can think of some people I would have nominated for that role, and Keith falls into that group. It might take you a bit to get into the story structure, but persevere. I think you will find it worth it.

Story 5: Do No Harm, by  Sarah A. Hoyt.
A talented health-care worker, with aspirations of becoming a doctor, is forced onto the direct battle against plague-infected individuals as the order in a hospital breaks down.Her understanding of the core of medicine, represented by the oath 'First, Do No Harm,' is shattered along with everything else she believes in.

Story 6: Not in Vain, by Kacey Ezell. I was not a fan of cheerleaders, until I actually met with some of them, and found that they are pretty much like any other group of athletes: mostly serious about their sport, and not any more likely to be mean girls than anyone else. YMMV, but this was my experience in working directly with a group of them. That impression is consistent with the behavior we see in a group of cheerleaders on their way back home from a cheerleading competition when the plague hits. Fortunately for them, their coach is a combat veteran, and never goes without a firearm for protection for herself and her girls. The bonds of friendship and team loyalty hold them together, even when some members of the troupe succumb to the virus.

Story 7: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Grandpa? by Michael Z. Williamson
Grandpa has been preparing for the end of the world as we know it, and consequently, his family thinks he's nuts. So, to keep from being institutionalized, he gets rid of his guns. They THINK he gets rid of his guns, that is. Of course,when everything collapses, his place is where they run to for help. But, he can whip them into shape. (I identify strongly with Grandpa, but I haven't reached his level. Yet.)

Story 8: Battle of the BERTs, by Mike Massa
BERTs are Biological Emergency Response Teams, contained in large vehicles which allow for the restraint of infected vehicles. ‌initially, they were used to transport infected to holding cells while treatment options were sought; later, they were used to harvest the infected so that their spines could be extracted to make vaccine.
This story gave me the creeps. It's not enough that civilized structures are collapsing, but here we have various types of bureaucrats fighting over turf. Probably  a likely scenario, but somehow nastier than the others.

Story 9: The Road to Good Intentions, by  Tedd Roberts
There are still some beautifully isolated areas in the the Appalachian Mountains, and I've spent plenty of wonderful times camping and motorcycling through that area. The protagonist of this next story doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind, though; he heads for the hills, but he drags along his significant other who is not at all on board with his plan. He insists on having a distorted view of the local pastor, regarding him as an old school fire and brimstone preacher, instead of a man who has care for his flock. And, as far as I can tell, his inability to face up to reality drives him insane.

Story 10: 200 Miles to Huntsville, by  Christopher Smith.
On what appears to be a routine prisoner transfer, the senior police officer turns out to be planning to get hidden loot from the prisoner. When he comes down with the virus, things change.
And then it gets weird. Maybe you'll like the weird part; it was a little over the top for me.

Story 11: Best Laid Plans, by Jason Cordova & Eric S. Brown
A group of thieves plan to steal from the Louvre, but then the plague strikes, and chaos reigns.
They continue the plan, and do, in fact, escape with lots of materials.
And it never seems to occur to them that the basis for a world economy has vanished, and that sandy paradises will be prime hunting grounds for the infected.

Story 12: The Meaning of Freedom, by John Ringo
Trust John Ringo to complicate a Zombie Apocalypse.
It turns out that the infected fall into two different categories: Alphas, which are hugely aggressive, and must be killed on sight; and Betas, which are passive, don't attack, and as it turns out, are trainable. The ethical dilemma is huge: if left to their own devices, they may starve, or become prey to the Alphas; however, those not infected must either provide direct care for them, or establish a societal structure to accommodate them.
And there is, metaphorically speaking, an awful lot of cotton to be picked.

I am not a fan of the zombie genre; I will NOT watch or read straight-up horror. However, Ringo's world isn't REALLY about zombies; it's about people who have been infected with a weaponized virus set. Maybe I'm trying to do something that can't be done, here, in distinguishing between zombie lit and biological attacks, but it leaves me feeling a bit, well, cleaner, I suppose. I thought all the stories were well-written, but I enjoyed reading stories 1 - 7 and 12; numbers 8-11 made me feel icky; I THINK (but I'm not sure) that's because those were the darker, zombie B-movie sort of stories. I know some people love those.

And I want to give a big shout-out to Brother Dave Truesdale, who INSISTED that the proper way to review was to disregard the author, and just evaluate the story. It wasn't easy, Dave, but I gave it my best.

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