Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse
James Wesley Rawles
When I was a little bit younger, I read a book written by a friend of mine who is a dedicated canoeist. I’m talking about the kind of guy who will spend hours happily boring you with details about his canoe and his crazy adventures where he canoes right off the edge of a waterfall and survives the experience. It was packed with details about canoes and could almost serve as a manual for a canoeist, but the story was very one-dimensional.
I see something of the same vibe in Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse. In some ways, it is impossible to dismiss the book because the author clearly knows his stuff and the book is jam-packed with survival tips and other useful thoughts that might be required if society actually did break down. In other ways, the level of info-dumping is so profound that it neglects the writing and leaves reading chunks of the novel a deeply frustrating experience. It reads more like a fictionalised manual than anything else.
This need not be a bad thing. Robert Heinlein wrote a manual on politics entitled Take Back Your Government which is charming and amusing and a joy to read. James Wesley Rawles has not. The author is determined to show off everything he knows and does that very well, but it comes at the expense of the characters or the situation. The book stretches plausibility well beyond the breaking point.
The basic plot is simple. America has finally entered a massive credit crunch (sound familiar?) and society is crumbling. Think Atlas Shrugged combined with some of the other depressing scenarios discussed in the global news. Money is rapidly becoming worthless, law and order is breaking down and the government is quite unable to fix the problem. Luckily, a small group of dedicated survivalists (mainly dedicated Christians, often very sanctimonious) has holed up well beyond the reach of any serious tide of refugees and manage to hold out long enough to start building up civilisation again. The second part of the book revolves around a UN-led occupation force that has teamed up with the remains of the federal government, which is – naturally – violently opposed by our heroes. Umm…what?
I think that the story would have been considerably more believable if it had been set after a limited nuclear exchange between Russia and the US. As it is, there are plenty of glitches that make reading it – if you have any knowledge of the underlying structure of society – tricky and suspension of disbelief impossible. The US Armed Forces, apparently, have largely melted away, despite the fact that the tendency would be towards the opposite. Soldiers have just vanished taking much of their hardware with them. What? The UN involvement in a post-crunch America is ridiculous; the UN could not have done that, even if it had survived the crunch.
America’s economy is tied in to that of the entire world; in a sense, America is the linchpin of the entire world. If America was hit so hard by the crunch, the rest of the world would go straight into the toilet. They’d be eating each other in Japan, China would be in the midst of a civil war, Europe would probably be having its own crunch problems and Latin America would have gone splat. No one is going to be thinking about invading anyone for a very long time.
The book also has its jarring moments. A pair of communist refugees are painted as cannibals – eating children, no less. The characters are all Christians – with a pair of exceptions – and all Christian sects are lumped together. This actually provides a set of ironic lines and – I suspect – unintentional humour. Two characters discussing a third character’s possible attraction to a fourth discuss marriage and dismiss the thought of them having a pre-martial relationship under the leader’s roof. They only just met! The characters study their bible in the evening, blatantly commit illegal acts even before the crunch, and can’t resist showing off how smart they are. The book’s conflicts are between purist white – almost literally – and utter darkness.
The author also has little understanding of interpersonal dynamics. The characters refuse to eat someone else’s food because it would be wrong, despite being starving, hungry and willing to break into their homes to escape the cold. The refuge has more males than females, yet the author doesn’t even nod to the possible conflicts.
Finally, the author starts giving voice to conspiracy theories that make Roswell look mundane and sane. I highly doubt that there has been a long-term plan to disarm America just so that the Evil UN could recoup what America owes the world – huh? There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Oklahoma Bombing, yet I doubt that it was the work of the OWG – One World Government. I think it’s a great deal more likely that the entire world blundered into the mess, but it’s a lot easier to take anything if you believe that someone set you up for a fall and there’s someone to blame.
I wish, seriously, that the author had written a survival handbook instead. It would have been much more readable and made the author a great deal more credible. And, probably, more money as well. I give the book three out of five for the survival tips, but without them, the book doesn’t rate more than one out of five. It needed a competent editor.