Mini-review – SurviRal by Ken Benton

BLURB

The deadliest flu season in a hundred years is about to turn a whole lot deadlier. When an accident at a famous medical research facility lets a mutated avian flu strain out, a nightmare scenario unfolds. Before authorities can react, millions are infected—and that’s just the beginning. The mortality rate exceeds 80%. Leaders and elected officials soon learn the man-manipulated virus respects neither rank nor stature. The resulting chain reaction leads to a collapse of modern society—even in Colorado, where no cases of the killer strain have yet appeared.

Clint Stonebreaker, a happily-married software engineer living in Denver, doesn’t like watching the news. He especially doesn’t let Jake, his wacky doomsday-prepping brother, watch it when he visits. But when chaos goes viral through the entire country, Clint and his wife Jenny are forced to acknowledge reality. They find themselves hitting the road with their gun-enthusiast neighbor to escape the deteriorating city. Their goal? Reaching Clint’s hunting cabin in Southeastern Colorado and trying to make a homestead of it.

They don’t get far before running into a gauntlet of obstacles. Colorado seems to have become a giant sociological experiment, with dire consequences for making the wrong decisions. The spirit of American resolve is pitted against the ugly realty of criminal opportunism in every direction they turn. Ironically, Clint isn’t sure which is worse: being forced to survive in the midst of civil unrest, or knowing he’ll have to admit to Jake that he was right. Assuming he can find him…

surviral

About the Author

Ken Benton appears to be your run-of-the-mill city slicker at first glance, blissfully playing with his iPhone at the bar of the local barbeque joint while sipping on craft-brewed IPA. But he has a secret passion: doomsday survival prepping. And if you ever snuck up behind him to see what he was reading, it would likely be one of those apocalyptic-survival stories set after the collapse of modern society. Yes, he’s one of those nuts. But someday soon, Ken believes, those nuts may become the new upper class in society. Until then, we’ll just have to make do with story-telling. And preparing.

This is his first work of fiction.

Mini-Review (very minor spoilers – I make sure not to give too much away)

Though I’ve read a number of dystopian and post-apocalytic books in the past (LBCDystopia); this is my first ‘prepper’ story. Preppers or survivalists are people or groups who actively prepare for emergencies – be they social, political, economic or medical. One of the primary goals seems to be becoming self sufficient with regards to medical care, shelter building and food storage to ensure survival should SHTF  (s**t hit the fan) scenarios arise. Though this is a worldwide phenomenon, what little knowledge I have is orientated around the US – primarily via (I suspect) terribly inaccurate and sensationalist ‘documentaries’.

In the main, I enjoyed this story. Ken Benton is very detail orientated and clearly really loved writing the initial disaster scenario. Perhaps it was a strength that this scene plays out so quickly – it definitely left me wanting more! So many of the books that I’ve read have focused on society forming long after the initial disaster point that it was very interesting to read one focused on the actual crumbling infrastructure and societal melt down.

For the first few chapters, it was primarily exposition via dialogue. To be honest, this is a style that leaves me cold and here I found Clint and Jenny to be pretty willfully ignorant, which is hardly a good start for the primary protagonists. I mean, yes, fair enough, keeping up with the news is stressful but after a couple of pages, I started to hope that they were going to be victims of the virus – they seemed so determined to stick their head in the sand and avoid learning ANYTHING AT ALL about what was happening. I appreciate the idea behind passing along exposition in this way but it seemed that every person they interacted with was better informed so frankly I had very little time for them.

While I grew quite frustrated with Clint and Jenny, the few chapters that dealt with their brother Jake and his conflict with the more grasping aspects of the government was FAAAR more interesting to me. I was delighted that there was more development of this aspect as the book progressed. Similarly the emergence of a brutal gang of ‘savages’ was quite out of the blue – I didn’t expect the ‘bad guys’ to have an origin story featured in this way – and equally captured my attention.

Clint, Jenny and Harold are forced to navigate cross country to attempt to find safety and encounter a number of challenges that kept my interest up. This is a book that is *very* located in the US, as evidenced by the proliferation of arms (not to mention the near reverence for them as demonstrated by every second character) and via an interesting exchange where help is turned down because the group offering it are the wrong sort of Christians. Very different mentality to the bits of Europe that I’ve been exposed to…though my gut response was to suspect that we either have fewer cults, or they are better at subterfuge… At every turn there were challenges, including one or two that I genuinely didn’t see coming – always good!

Politically, the author pulls no punches, he appears to be equally disdainful of the two major parties in the US. The somewhat amoral but fundamentally decent character of Congressman Wade Bennett was probably the best developed outside the primary three and was definitely the most delightful character for me. I’ll be signing up for the newsletter just to discover more about his story! By the time the divergent strands come together, it feels like quite a well explored world – albeit a slightly more brutal version of one than I am familiar with!

With regards to the survivalist aspect, it was apparent that the author felt very comfortable exploring and developing his ideas. On the one hand, this was a strength – the research shone through and I felt like I learned quite a bit behind the psychology of ‘prepping’ vis a vis the do’s and don’t. Do keep seeds. Don’t hoard, it’ll attract scavengers and so on. On the other hand, I felt like this was all predetermined and designed to fit an agenda – I have a feeling that in this book, none of the characters ever moved in a direction that the author hadn’t planned for…which is a bit of a shame really.

However, it’s worth noting that this is the first foray into fiction writing for Ken Benton. At points, it did feel like he was experimenting with different styles of storytelling and this was a touch distracting. However it also left me feeling like he is still finding his feet and personal approach towards fiction.

Certainly, this is a strong and solid initial effort and I look forward to seeing what he tackles next.

 

Visit his website – Survival Tales – HERE

Sign up for the newsletter and be send a free short story featuring Congressman Wade.

 

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About Drneevil

Blogger, podcaster, reader, knitter. Founder of Leeds Book Club; host of Culturally Fixated; co-host of Conversations with Geek People; tech support for Leeds Browncoats.

Posted on January 17, 2015, in All Posts, Avid Reader, Book Club, Books, LBC Book Reviews, LBC Dystopia, Review Copy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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