On Memorial Day, I decided to delve into a different culture and read a book from a former military man. That book, by James Wesley Rawles, has an appropriate title, Patriots. The subtitle gives a strong hint of the content, “A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse.” It’s been very popular in these troubled times, so much so that the Amazon link above is for the Kindle book only. I grabbed my copy from Borders.
I believe in preparation. Based on a recommendation, I’ve been reading Mr. Rawles’s blog, SurvivalBlog, since the fall. Since I believe in fair value, I donated to the site. If you skip over some of the gun articles (training is far more important than caliber), there’s a lot of good information. Everyone should have supplies to stay in their home for about 10 days, and supplies to flee almost immediately if needed. Just in the past year in Louisville, I’ve faced a windstorm, where much of the area was without power for a week, and an ice storm, where much of the area was without power for a week. These sort of things happen. The official government provides ready.gov if you prefer a site without weaponry. I take suggestions from both places.
The primary point of this review, though, is not to talk about survival preparedness. It’s also not to judge the book as a survival manual, though I will take a short digression. There are very good parts, particularly about retreat preparation, weaponry, and military tactics. Given that Mr. Rawles has lots of experience in that subject, this is not surprising. On the other hand, the book provides little guidance on morale and psychology. Most plans have people living in very small groups, with little to no outside contact, for years. Additionally, much comfort, even down to flush toilets, will be gone. Anyone who doesn’t make serious plans for morale, and psychological issues, shows far too much confidence in their people. And you need people and a group to survive.
Anyway, let’s assume you want to read Patriots as a novel, not a survivor’s guide. It’s not very good. In several places, a character spends several pages lecturing. From a plot perspective, five pages on how radio communications are detected are not interesting, or information on stringing together gun magazines, or building claymores. Can these parts be skipped? Well, yes, but it exposes the slimness of the narrative. It will also make the product placements more obvious. It’s like Chuck and Subway, except with the Encyclopedia of Country Living instead of the $5 footlong. I know that the full titles and authors are there for the survival references, but they don’t help the story.
Furthermore, the characters are often indistinguishable. There’s Kevin, Lisa, Todd, Dan, and over a dozen more. While there are some attempts to keep people apart, and a few succeed (like Dan), it doesn’t generally work. Sometimes Mr. Rawles uses a last name for a character, and I found myself forgetting who it was. They certainly don’t have the distinction of Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn in a much better fantasy series. For that matter, they don’t have the distinction of the characters in the Left Behind series. That’s not a high standard.
Speaking of standards, the fact checking is surprisingly lacking, given the updates for the current financial crash of 2008 and the military details. I find it amazing that Mr. Rawles couldn’t get the number of amendments correct. As of 1992, there are 27, not 26, so the new “27th Amendment” mentioned would be impossible. Furthermore, on page 22, Todd and TK are walking back to their dorm in 2006 even though Todd was married by 2001 and TK was a Sears manager by 2002. And having been at the University of Chicago, a lot of their majors do not exist. Finally, the deaths from the “influenza pandemic” make no sense in Chapter 21; there is no model that would give that mortality rate, yet survive long enough to cause the stated number of deaths, but not be known to people in the west, even by rumor. Pandemics don’t work that way.
Finally, I turn to the plot. The first half was interesting, in a post-apocalyptic situation traversed before by Alas Babylon and other tales. While some might find the fundamentalist Christianity simplistic, I didn’t have a problem; complicated systems would be out of fashion. I did have a problem with the Federal invasion. It combines several far right notions such as United Nations control, National ID cards, Marks of the Beast, and martial law. Furthermore, the opponents seem to have a black ninja problem, where they are orders of magnitude less competent than the heroes. For example, the invading forces had air superiority. Why wasn’t there recon? Or aerial bombardment? The US has bombed civilians in many wars. If the opposition is “worse”, why wouldn’t they use these tactics?
There are too many simplifications, errors, and digressions to make this a good novel. It’s a good reference, but as a work of literature, not a survival manual, Patriots gets a 1 out of 5.