Archive for August 11th, 2008

Post Apocalyptic Book Club: Week 6 - Life As We Knew It

Sharon August 11th, 2008

With gas down to $3.89 gallon here and everyone trumpeting the rise of the dollar, I’m tempted to switch our book club to the “Happy Ending Book Club” but, I’m resisting.  So back to LAWKI.

First post today (I’m hoping there will be two, but I’ve got peaches and cucumbers calling me, so we’ll see) is the “Is this a real problem?  If so, is the book a good guide?”

First the commentary from DH the astrophysicist (remember to include an astrophysicist in your emergency kit ;-) ) - the author does a bad job of describing the event in real terms, but the effects are probably understated if anything.  If an asteroid that large really were to hit the moon, you would not see instant “knocking” out of phase, nor would it instantly become larger, or you have near-instant tsunamis.  Instead, what would happen is that the velocity of the object (in this case the moon) would change, so it would take several days for major tsunamis to hit, and the dramatic visual effect of the moon would change most 2 weeks later, at perigee.

That said, however, Eric’s take is that if anything, the author *understates* how dramatically the world would change if this actually were to happen - a moon that was 10% closer would create tides that were 30% stronger - forever.   Much of the coastal areas of most nations would probably never be inhabitable again.  The volcano eruptions and earthquakes are perfectly plausible - what isn’t plausible is that things would normalize as quickly as they do. Eric was actually quite impressed that Pfeffer managed to create such a original and fascinating disaster scenario - because in fact, it truly would be utterly disastrous.  The only other caveat he had was that it is unlikely that astronomers would, in fact, underestimate the mass of an asteroid quite so much - so people probably would have had some sense that the impact might disturb things on earth. 

Ok, looking at the book as a preparedness manual, some people were quite harsh about the mother’s preparations - and there are definitely things to critique.  But honestly, given that the implication is that the mother in the story has never, ever thought about these situations before, has never done any preparations, her level of foresight, is, I think, rather good.  That is, she thinks not only of bottled water and short term preparations, but long johns, tampons and medicines.  She makes a fairly rapid transition from “normal” to “prepared” and does, not spectacularly, but reasonably well.

 I admit, all the shopping scenes in these books have inspired me to play the mental game “what if I knew before everyone else” - that is, what would happen if I was fairly sure things were falling apart and had a little notice.  What would I buy?  I come at this better prepared than most people - my fantasies tend to settle in around dog food and fresh fruit for as long as I can get it. 

What I think deserves critique is how the Mother begins to sort out her children - I find the idea that a 13 year old, even one who was fed at baseball camp (which to be fair to the Mother and siblings, is, I think a large part of the reason that they are trying to preserve him - because he never endured as much hunger as the rest) would be the one they’d choose to survive kind of bizarre.  But even more bizarre, I think is the behavior of the father - the trek across country is incredibly risky, and he knows he probably won’t see his kids ever again.  I can’t imagine any divorced father of my acquaintance, or any decent father I’ve ever met, abandoning his existing children entirely in favor of a proto-child, even at his wife’s insistence, much less risking both their lives and the unborn child’s when the parents might cross to them. 

 Of course, this is a plot device, and parents do abandon prior offspring, but in a survival situation, investing your energies in the long-term survival of all offspring makes much more sense than the cross-country trek.  Having Dad and Lisa move in with Mrs. Nesbitt, who desperately needed more people in her house would certainly make more sense, although, of course, divorced families often act irrationally.

We were tough on the mother for her choice to preserve her son, and perhaps justifiably to a degree, but it is worth noting that she’s starving to death, and that does affect your ability to think critically.  The constant references to school work aren’t just, I think intended to point out that it is hard to keep going, but that it is physically hard to do mental work on inadequate food.

 One of the things that does impress me in this book is the level of family unity and endurance - that is, people do do what is necessary to survive and go on - Miranda does get through the winter to the hospital, even though it doesn’t help.  Matt does help save everyone from smoke inhalation.  The book has its weaknesses (I think, for example, the religious subplot is incredibly stupid), but it does show something that doesn’t appear in the shiny, guns and ammo stories - that a lot of the time, survival is just about going on from where you are, and picking up and going on again after the next set-back.

What are your thoughts?