Friday, September 12, 2014

Steph Reads Baened Books: John Ringo's Islands of Rage and Hope (Black Tide Rising, Book 3)

Back when I reviewed Larry Correia's latest summer-blockbuster-in-book-form, I remarked that I had made a mistake in omitting discussion of the Monster Hunter International series until that moment. Well, today, we're going to discover another reason why I'm a hideous failure as a blogger and reviewer: John Ringo's Black Tide Rising series. No -- I didn't review the first two books (which you should definitely purchase here and here). Yes -- this does make me an idiot.

The Black Tide Rising series had a rather ironic genesis. You see, Ringo actually hates zombie apocalypse stories; as he remarked at, I believe, Dragon Con 2013, he finds most such tales to be completely nonsensical. So, of course, it was only natural that he would be hit with a zombie apocalypse idea that would seize his consciousness so completely that he would go on to write four complete novels in one sitting at breakneck speed. Since then, Baen has been polishing and doling these books out every few months.

To update you on the story so far: An as-yet-unidentified terrorist has unleashed a weaponized virus upon the world that in its first stage looks like a severe flu but in its second stage causes the destruction of all higher brain functions. (Note: Because Ringo consulted some experts before penning these books, his zombies are reasonably grounded in science. They are not the reanimated corpses of traditional zombie stories, but living beings who are irreversibly brain damaged and murderously insane.) The Smith family - the protagonists - have escaped this world-ending plague by taking to the sea; along the way, they have assembled a flotilla - complete with a much-attenuated Navy and Marine Corps - whose primary mission is to rescue survivors, produce a vaccine, and (in the long term) work to rebuild civilization.

In Islands of Rage and Hope, which was released just last month, the aforementioned rag-tag band has now started clearing Caribbean islands as well as boats in its search for more qualified personnel -- and for the materials necessary to produce vaccine. There are also quite a few side plots going on as well: The astronauts left behind on the ISS make an appearance, as do a cadre of reality show television stars; a mystery emerges as to the true identity of one "Thomas Walker," who seems to have a much more impressive background than he's initially willing to admit; the flotilla contends with an imminent baby boom; and Faith Smith spends most of this installment struggling to shift her mindset from "me kill zombies good" to that of a competent Marine Corps officer. Through it all, everyone is looking for reasons to carry on in the face of impossible odds.

The indisputable thematic heart of this book is the passage in which Sophia Smith goes to watch the flotilla's newly created propaganda film:
...The views faded to a shot of Earth's surface, by night, dated the day the Plague was announced. There were more as the plague progressed and the sparkling strands of light slowly began to turn off, portion by portion, Africa went before South America went before Asia went before North America went before Europe until the entire world was cloaked in preindustrial darkness... 
...Then the shots zoomed down, pre-Plague satellite images of New York, Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, filled with people and life and laughter, the cities bright by day and night with a trillion incandescent and fluorescent and neon and LED lights proclaiming to the heavens that Here Was Man. 
And then the same cities, in current satellite shots, with avenues choked with decaying vehicles, and raven-picked bodies, and naked infected roaming the streets... 
...The music ended. All there was was a scrolling night shot of the dead world from a satellite. It seemed like the movie had ended, and Sophia almost got up, wondering why anyone would want to see this montage of horror. They'd all lived it. 
Then there was the sound of a scratch of a match...
Typing those snippets out made me tear up a little bit. Human Wave? You betcha -- and that's why, I think, this series has become such an overwhelming success. Unlike the writers of other well-known zombie apocalypse series, Ringo doesn't create a world that is irretrievably grim; instead, he supposes that competent and determined people might actually succeed in pulling mankind out of the abyss -- after, of course, a great deal of hard work, suffering, and personal sacrifice. Ringo also incorporates enough of his textbook humor to keep things leavened, and he succeeds in crafting a plot that keeps you hooked from cover to cover.

Have you picked up any of the books in the Black Tide Rising series? If not, I urge you to do so posthaste. In the immortal words of Wolf Squadron's aforementioned film, "The hell with the darkness. Light a candle."

Final Verdict: Highly Recommended.

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