Voices of the Fall, edited by John Ringo & Gary Poole

Tuesday, 05 March 2019 17:52 Rick Cartwright
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Voices of the Fall

 

 

Edited by

 

 

John Ringo and Gary Poole

 

 

 

(Baen, March 2019, hardcover, 336 pp.)


 

Starry, Starry Night” by John Ringo
Spectrum” by Mike Massa
Storming the Tower of Babel” by Sarah Hoyt
Return to Mayberry” by Rob Hampson
It Just Might Matter in the End” by Travis S. Taylor
Inhale to the King, Baby!” by Michael Z. Williamson
Ham Sandwich” by Jody Lynn Nye
The Downeasters” by Brendan DuBois
The Species as Big as the Ritz” by Robert Buettner
The Cat Hunters” by Dave Freer
Alpha Gamers” by Griffin Barber
True Faith and Allegiance” by Michael Gants
The Killer Awoke” by John Birmingham

Reviewed by Rick Cartwright

How do people doing the right thing move from hero and then morph to legend? John Ringo, the creator of the Black Tide Rising universe, explores the theme with “Starry, Starry Night” and the legend of Old Man Klunder. Told in flashback by the elderly Virginia to a group of children, the reader learns that the storyteller was a child rescued by Bjorn Klunder early in the Fall. Ringo shifts seamlessly between the epic tale spun by Virginia to the far more down to earth Bjorn.

The end of the story had me misty eyed. Highly recommended.

Mike Massa appeared in the first (and eponymously titled) Black Tide Rising anthology with “The Battle of the BERTS.” Since then he has gone on to coauthor a new trilogy in the BTR universe with John Ringo. “Spectrum” is completely unlike his prior work and Massa does a masterful job tackling the question of what happens to someone who is not a soldier, survivalist, or even has a triple digit IQ. Enoch Mist Over Water is a “Living Docent” at a Native American heritage exhibit and it's established early on that he lives on site and is a bit...slow. To the point that he is unaware of the zombie apocalypse and is relatively unconcerned that no one else is coming to work or visiting the museum. So long as he can work the List he is content. But then things not covered by the List start happening.

Spectrum” is a great story and easily stands alone. I was really impressed with the author’s ability to convey the flavor of the catastrophe through a narrator unable to provide the information that you would normally expect. However, if you are familiar with the Black Tide Rising universe you will have an exponentially better experience.

Sarah Hoyt is an American who happened to have been born into a Portuguese family. She corrected the geographic and citizenship error as soon as possible, but spent her early years in Europe and acquired several languages along the way. “Storming the Tower of Babel” is her tale of an American stuck in Portugal who doesn't speak the language and is a bit shaky about the geography of the area and how she not only survives but starts the process of rebuilding her life and creating a family in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  The author does an excellent job conveying the emotional angst of having your life ripped away and the process of starting anew.

In “Return to Mayberry,” Rob Hampson returns to the rural North Carolina area he created in Black Tide Rising but focuses on a different group. I found the story fascinating in that it addressed the impact that the main characters in the BTR novels has on the people who can listen to the exploits of people like Shewolf Smith. Not just the inspiration, but the personal toll that doing what must be done to survive the zombie apocalypse takes on the survivors. The writer creates real three-dimensional characters that are just as capable of screwing up as they are at performing heroic deeds.  The story leaves you wanting more. One would hope that Rob Hampson could write his own stand-alone Black Tide Rising novel someday.

One of the pivotal moments of the book Islands of Rage and Hope (the third in John Ringo’s original four-volume BTR quartet) was the attempt to recover the astronauts stranded on the International Space Station. In “It Just Might Matter in the End,” Travis S. Taylor describes the behind the scenes efforts by a remnant of NASA scientists to keep the astronauts alive and try to return them home safely. Travis does a skillful job weaving the hard science with the nuts and bolts struggle to survive into the story. Well-read science fiction readers will have heard of the protagonist, who is a real-life person.

In Islands of Rage and Hope one of the radio transmissions that headed a chapter was “. . . KING OF MIAMI AND THE KINGDOM OF FLORCUBATAMP! ALL SHALL BOW BEFORE MY MAGNIFICENCE . . .!” One would think that this was someone driven insane with delusions of grandeur by the horror of the zombie apocalypse and holed up alone somewhere with power and a radio.  In “Inhale to the King, Baby!” Michael Z. Williamson shows one would be wrong. Eric Magnus Lamont might be crazy, but the King is by no means alone and is in fact successfully carving out a kingdom in South Florida using his skills as an Army vet, albeit one whose career was cut short by a fondness for weed.  

Ham Sandwich” by Jody Lynn Nye revisits the setting of the Nashville area bio tech facility she created in “Staying Human,” from the Black Tide Rising anthology.  The protagonist in “Ham Sandwich” is an amateur radio operator, a “ham,” and his struggles to maintain a tenuous connection with other survivors around the world and the lengths he goes to obtain needed parts and supplies. At the end, it is a very uplifting story and one of the most humorous of the collection.

The Downeasters” by Brendan DuBois is a well-crafted story of the best and worst of the inhabitants of an isolated Maine island, the struggle to keep on surviving and the lies you sometimes must tell those you love to keep hope alive. This story stands out because it does not pull punches.  In any disaster people will sometimes act in selfish and stupid ways that could doom themselves and others. The author here explores those themes, which results in a bittersweet ending. This might be the darkest story in the mix.

The Species as Big as the Ritz” by Robert Buettner takes us to Nepal for a story that examines what price is too high for the survival of humanity and what are the limits of duty. It is an interesting read and the ending is worth the buildup.

Dave Freer addresses the zombie apocalypse from down under in “The Cat Hunters.”  The story is set on and around Auckland Island, an isolated location where hunters are employed to rid the island of invasive species such as pigs, mice, and cats that are preying on the endangered flora and fauna. Thanks to their isolation, no one is exposed to the zombie virus, but the growing realization that they are on their own is taking a toll. Because it wouldn’t be a zombie apocalypse without zombies, Mr. Freer manages to introduce another, deadly species via a grounded container ship of refugees. I am not sure Dave Freer can write a bad story, and this one is notable for the way he deals with the denial some of the characters have for the situation they find themselves in and how they work through it. Or not.

Alpha Gamers” by Griffin Barber chronicles the tale of a group of survivors on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay who knew each other as gamers and survived thanks to access to vaccine and carried on gamer culture as a coping mechanism. For example, “raids” are trips to scavenge for supplies. Some individuals wear armor, which is not a bad thing at all.  What really sets the story apart are the questions that are raised when they hear on the radio about the rebuilding of the nation. Several of them, many who did not fare well in the pre-Fall, wonder why they would want to rejoin the United States when they had created a better, if more dangerous life for themselves.

In “True Faith and Allegiance,” retired submariner Michael Gants tells the story of the fast attack submarine USS Key West and the crew’s desperate efforts to free the boat from a freighter taking on water and threatening to drag the entangled sub down to the bottom.  This is the only story in the anthology where zombies don't make an appearance, but the struggle to solve the problems and survive provide plenty of tension for the reader. In fact, you are left wondering to the end if they are going to make it.  This is a compelling read and well worth your time.

The Killer Awoke” by John Birmingham is a favorite author of mine and “The Killer Awoke” is a well-crafted story about a deep cover agent who wakes up in a hospital in Paris at the start of the zombie apocalypse with fragmented memories.

While good, the story was probably the weakest of the anthology because there was no clear reason to really care about the characters or what happened to them, and almost no way to form a connection to them to even start to care about whether they survived or not.