One of the best things about the internet in general and self-publishing in particular is the resurgence and proliferation of the short novel, or novella. Nowhere is this better realized than in all of the genre fiction being written at less than forty-thousand words, give or take, or somewhere under two-hundred pages.
I have always been a fan of disaster and apocalypse stories. Aside from the general action and adrenaline involved, they always contain two other elements or conceits:
- addressing immediate threats and solving life-or-death problems quickly while under stress
- broader commentary driven by people’s choices, how they may or may not have created the survival situation, and how people’s responses to sudden, cataclysmic events reveal and test their character
So it is with K.Z. Howell’s Dead World, an action-packed and thought-provoking ride through the initial months of a worldwide, man-made chemical and biological attack upon humanity.
This is a fun, fast read, and the author knows how to tell a story. It reads like a movie, and would make a good one. In addition to an interesting premise and a solid setup before all hell breaks loose, it is refreshing to read action stories in which the details about how firearms operate and how military units and equipment works are accurate and informative.
In a broader sense, the book forces the reader to consider the implications of supply-chain fragility and the extreme lack of self-reliance that characterizes most first world populations. While it’s easy and fun to caricature “doomsday preppers”–indeed, many of them caricature themselves–the advantages of preparedness, self-reliance, and homesteading–and simply knowing your neighbors–remain obvious, rational, and prudent, and are presented by the author as such. Considering that, as of this writing, much of the first world remains in “semi-lockdown”, with minor supply chain disruptions in some areas, and widespread unemployment and layoffs, self-reliance and basic preparedness has never looked so good. In a sense this story–like all good disaster stories–puts the reader on the spot and asks him, “How independent are you, really”, and, “How prepared are you mentally, physically, and logistically to handle a sudden, unexpected crisis?”
An additional point of appreciation by this reader is the fact that most of the action takes place in the area where I grew up and where I still live. It’s not often you see Heflin, Alabama pop up in a novel of any kind.
An unflinching, unsentimental look at the dynamics of American society driven to chaos by an unseen but brutal enemy, Dead World makes for a great weekend’s entertainment with the television off, the computer sleeping, the pipe lit, and the dog frustrated that he can’t break your attention away from the written word.
The ending ties the action of the story together and also suggests a sequel. I hope that’s the case.