An update and reading for pleasure

Sorry for the silence, everyone, but real life has been kicking my butt. The rehab on the injured Achilles is ongoing and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, my 80+ year old mother has not been doing real well this past week. Nothing terribly serious but bad enough that it has impacted her not only physically but emotionally and that, in turn, impacts me. Things are finally starting to loo up there, so I hope life is getting back to normal.

Like a lot of folks, when I get stressed I read. I read for enjoyment and for escape. I turn off the editor hat and all I want it to be taken for a ride that takes me away from whatever is worrying me. It may be humorous or it may be serious. It may take me on flights to other worlds or drop me into a dystopian future. It doesn’t matter as long as the plot makes sense, it grabs me and holds me and I care for the characters. Hell, there can even be a message — just don’t preach at me. Let it be part of the story, not so much buried but carefully woven so that it isn’t glaringly obvious and takes away from the story. Remember, if I want a sermon, I’ll go to church. Believe me, my pastor is much better at delivering a sermon than any writer I know.

So when real life hit so hard earlier this week that I could not deal with writing or editing, I reached for my Kindle and looked at my to be read pile. It’s a big pile but there were a couple of things that jumped out at me. One of them actually had me kicking myself. Sitting near the top of the list was Strands of Sorrow (Black Tide Rising), the fourth book in John Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series. A smile touched my lips to see the title and I started to open the book. Then I realized it had been awhile since I had read the previous titles in the series. Some of the details were more than a little fuzzy. So, in stead of opening Strands of Sorrow and beginning it, I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I opened a book I had already read and started rereading it.

The first book in the series is Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1).  When I first picked up the book, I did so more because I have enjoyed most of Ringo’s work. I will even admit I was hesitant because this was unlike anything Ringo had written before, at least on the surface. Then there was the fact it was about zombies and, well, I don’t like zombies, at least not in my books. But Ringo, as he has done so many times before, surprised me. To begin with, the book wasn’t the typical Zombie Apocalypse book and these weren’t your usual zombies. These weren’t walking dead out looking for brains. Nope, the ZA was the result of something that has always been one of my fears — someone creating a virus of sorts that is released and sweeps the globe like a pandemic, or worse.

Then there was the fact that the main characters weren’t bad ass soldiers and the bad guys weren’t major corporations or, gasp, the government. The real bad guy is some unknown, faceless man or woman who, as the ZA spreads, quickly becomes almost irrelevant as the survivors simply struggle to survive and thrive.

Yes, thrive. You see, the real heroes in the Under a Graveyard Sky happen to a family. An ex-pat Aussie who is now an American citizen, his wife and their two daughters. They, along with his brother, are what most of us would call preppers but that just doesn’t begin to explain what they are. Preppers don’t hold a candle to what Steve Smith and his family were. Steve and his brother Tom knew what could happen in the world of the here and now. They knew it might come from war or it might come from terrorism or it might come from someone just being stupid. They had plans in place and they had prepared to execute them based on the circumstances surrounding whatever the emergency might be.

This is a family that will do whatever it takes to stay together and to survive. But there is more. This isn’t a family that just strikes out to find an isolated place to wait out the ZA. Sure, that might have been the original plan but when they start coming across survivors, and when the scope of the ZA starts to become apparent, they realize they can’t just ride it out. If humanity is to survive, they have to do something. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option.

If that means doing things no “civilized” person would do, you do it. You try to protect and shield your children the best you can but you recognize that you’re no longer in Kansas and this isn’t Oz. You regret that your kids don’t get the childhood they deserved, that there will be no prom, etc., but it is better to live than die.

Are some of the scenarios presented in the book unrealistic? Sure, by the standards of what we have right now. But, if I found myself and my family in the middle of a ZA, I hope we could cope half as well as Steve Smith and family.

Oh, Ringo also avoids the one mistake so many do in this sort of book. Not all of his characters are heroes or villains. There is no black and white line between good and evil. There are more than a few characters, minor to be sure but necessary to the worldbuilding, who are what could best be called drains on society. These are the ones who refuse to pitch in and do the work, often repugnant by our standards, to survive. Whether they are lazy or privileged in their prior lives and unable to adapt, it doesn’t matter. Instead of instantly culling them out of the the society that is slowly growing around what will come to be known as Wolf Squadron, Smith gives them a chance to change their minds. Even if they don’t, he doesn’t kill them. At least not outright. Eventually, they will be given ships or landed someplace where they can either survive by their own means or not. He is not responsible.

Nor should he and the others of Wolf Squadron be. We’re not talking here about culling out the sick and aged. We are talking about letting those who refuse to pull their own weight sink or swim by their own hand. A hard choice? Sure, but when you are in the middle of a ZA, it sure as hell beats letting them drag everyone else down into death.

Is there a message in the book? I don’t know if Ringo would say there is or not. To me, sure. There are several. Be prepared. Be aware. Be informed. Family. Loyalty. Duty. And not necessarily in that order.

I’d go on and discuss the next book in the series,To Sail a Darkling Sea (Black Tide Rising Book 2), but this has already gone on long enough. I’ll talk about it and the other books in the series over the next week. For now, all I can say is if you haven’t read Under a Graveyard Sky (Black Tide Rising Book 1) yet, do so. Don’t be fooled by the “zombie” theme. This isn’t your usual ZA novel and it is a rip-roaring good time that will leave you thinking and wanting more.





  1. Fun series to read for sure. You pointed to one of the things that I liked the most…they didn’t jsut find a place to survive, they started to rebuild the world. One of my biggest complaints about TWD and other ZA books and shows is that they try and draw out the survival aspect and forget that eventually you have to thrive in the new post apocalyptic world. Wolf Squadron starts doing that very quickly and that, for me at least, is why they are so compelling.

    1. Agreed, David. It also doesn’t shy away from the fact that living in such a world does change things. What was unacceptable just a month ago is now a way of life. You have to adapt or you die. You have to understand that the mores of your childhood simply can’t apply right now but that, hopefully, at some point in the future they can again.

  2. One of my favorite series, have read it a couple times. Best of all, when the world gets to you, you can read a wonderful kick-ass book or the whole series.

    1. Sarah took the fundamental premise and gave it her own inimitable twist. It is a very personal story, told from the perspective of a single individual caught up in the horror of the initial outbreak and following her through all the travails to an outcome I won’t reveal. In some ways it’s the theme of Wolf Squadron crammed into a short story and done very well IMHO.

  3. I got the e-versions through Baen Webscriptions, and as soon as Strands of Sorrow was available, I bought the whole series in hardcover and gave them to my son. He loved them!

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