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Sailing the Apocalypse: A Misadventure at Sea by Scott B. Williams
SETTING: Waterways of SE USA in our present times of impending, but not yet catastrophic Collapse.
STORY: A newly formed family under the (mis?)guidance of Terry Bailey - Doomer / Prepper - builds APOCALYPSE, a 46ft Wharram Catamaran (great choice, sloppy execution), and bugs out while the buggin' is good.
Events are told through the eyes of twelve year old Robbie. Along for the ride are his (mostly) 'whatever-he-says' Mother, and otherwise-occupied, teen half-sister. Along the way, they acquire a Mentor, of sorts, in the form of an easy going, aging Hippy.
STORY ARC (spoiler alert!): Downward spiral.
Sailing the Apocalypse is a cautionary tale of what I think of as 'dysprepsia'... a syndrome to which we in the Choir are prone.
Terry Bailey believes much as we do (the Choir, that is... I'm assuming in this review that you're a fellow Doomer / Prepper, familiar with the general outlook and its vocabulary).
He believes that S is about to HTF. That the time to bug out is before it does. He has made some solid, informed choices and acted upon them, investing himself fully. Each of these identify him (and his family) as increasingly rare birds.
But things do not go well, and the 'why' is the cautionary aspect.
Terry lacks humility. He is seething with contempt for others (rather than empathy), which expresses itself in rants, bullying and manipulation. He is the patriarch of his tribe, which alienates his family. This in turn impairs teamwork, and supresses and disincentivizes their best efforts.
He can neither recognize nor admit to his mistakes, and therefore cannot learn from them. Nor can he adapt, whether to new information or consequences of mis-information or mis-steps. One has the sense that he has skimmed from excellent resources, but not absorbed their content. He overrates his (presumed) experience, and undervalues training and the steep slope of the learning curve.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...
I found it to be somewhat queasy reading.
As a confirmed Doomer who bugged out on a sailboat, years ago, this shoe fits too well. I, too, am prone to rant with a tinge of smug and a supercilious veiw of 'the sheep'. To regard shoreside society as dismally stuck in ruts that will drag us all over the edge. To see complacency, venality and power plays conspiring to whittle away at whatever small freedoms are left.
I FEEL Terry's pain!
But none of us know how our 'best laid plans' will fare... whether they will protect us and ours for another round, or whether they will founder under the thrash of our toppled giant. We must all take our best shot from a position of limited personal and physical resources. I believe we must persuade as many as we can to prepare... if not for Collapse, at least for Trouble. At the very least to step aside and let us prepare ourselves.
Humility, Williams reminds us, is an adaptive trait.
Scott B. Williams is one of the best of us.
He's an expert in the theory and practice of prepper / survival concepts and techniques, and has been walking the walk for decades. In other words, he wrote Terry Bailey from the competent position of knowing exactly where his weaknesses and errors lie.
This contrasts with other works I've read, where the author unintentionally projects their own ignorance through a protagonist who, by all rights, could never have shouldered his bottomless BugOutBag, much less improvise his Ham Radio from that toaster.
Terry's bumbling is the conscious artifact of an author who knows much better... a moral tale from an educated pen.
Sailing the Apocalypse is the opening chapter of an ongoing series. From it's pages, one may learn a great deal - both from example and counter-example - from an author with authority.
I am hoping that we will see one or both of two main developments in the continuing adventure:
A) Terry will come around... as extreme as he is, I'm rooting for him.
B) Robbie will mature, and through him we may watch his opinions firming, learn with him as his skills and knowledge and - most important - approaches expand. I want to ride along as he debriefs his experiences!
I'd also love to see - through either path - more of the whys and wherefores. How do these decisions link up into suites of skills? How does one start from here to there? This novel is already a good start, but I know that Williams has plenty to add.
At present, Sailing the Apocalypse could be read as an argument against everything Terry believes.
Mr. Williams, will you save the baby from the bathwater in your next installments?
I hate the critical part of a review, constructive though it be. But here goes... a quibble:
I felt character development could be improved.
It's a challenge to funnel development through a single character - especially a 12 year old. But each character's reactions should reflect a consistant personality. At times, reactions seemed to reflect internal inconsistencies (which were neither presented nor explored as internal conflict). Vocabulary, voice and depth - especially in Robbie's narration - seemed at times uneven.
Terry Bailey: He's our guy, but so often lost in contemptuous rant, and so "I can't be told nuffin'" that it derails our natural empathy for him. So far, there's no backstory to explain him or soften his impact. He's a tragic character, at present - hoist by his own petard - but without earning much of the sympathy that would pull us into his plight. I want to see more of his human side, not just arrogance and anger. There are hints that he's not entirely who he seems...
Robbie (Narrator): Lots of potential, here. Smart boy with a big dose of common sense. Alive to wonders en route. At present, though, he's a mostly blank slate. He often (rightly) wonders whether his step-dad's omniscience is as advertised, but often, his common sense aligns with the herd (if nobody else thinks this way, how bad can it be?). So far, the herd has the edge. Will we see him start to do his own thinking? Form an outlook that can stand up against both his step-father and popular opinion?
Linda (the Mother): Here's an important character who stays mostly in the background. She only gets to speak for herself a few times, and then it's (almost entirely) in reaction to Terry. We don't get to see much at all of her relationship with the others. Who is she? Why is she so passive (until a certain kind of push comes to a certain kind of shove)? Does she have any hopes or dreams of her own? What does she see in Terry (not to disparage, but why are they drawn to each other)?
Janie (Linda's daughter): Janie is mostly a facade of teenage boredom and dissatisfaction, as one might expect. But, if you've ever known or been a teenager, you know that there's a lot more going on below the surface. What? Is she as shallow as the Rant would have us believe? What's her vision of her own future, if any?
Dean (Hippy Mentor): No quibble here. Deftly portrayed in concise strokes. Hoping to read more of him!
The beauty of a series is that there's more of it, and Williams has definitely set the hook.
I feel that more of the same would be too much. I've gotten the picture, now, and the dose is just right.
I hope - and have reason to expect - that this is an opening movement. That Williams is preparing us for what promises to be a moving exploration of the challenges facing we who sail our lonely - and often beleaguered course.
If he can pull it off, I'm hoping for our genre's version of Theroux's Mosquito Coast. Or even Captain Ron.
I'm on-board to find out!