The Library at the End of the World – Jim Cobb

The Fireman by Joe Hill

JimCobb : July 27, 2016 3:32 pm : Library at the End of the World

Reviewing novels is always kind of tricky. You want to fill the reader in on what the story is about but at the same time you don’t want to spoil any surprises, large or small. Let me start, though, by saying that I’m a huge fan of Joe Hill. He’s a tremendously talented writer, the kind of author you read and enjoy, but then you get kind of pissed because you’re just not quite that good yourself. At least, not yet.

As regulars here know, and new visitors could probably suss out fairly quickly, I’m also a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. Whether we’re talking war, natural disasters, or man-made calamities, I’m interested in how people fare in the aftermath. So, when I heard Joe Hill was doing a post-apocalyptic novel, it caught my attention.

In THE FIREMAN, the disaster du jour is a pandemic, but unlike any we’ve seen before. Draco incendia trychophyton, often referred to as Dragonscale, is a communicable disease that can and usually does set people on fire. It first manifests as a gold and black marking, not unlike a tattoo, on the body. The location and shape are different for everyone. What matters is that once you’ve been infected, you’re likely going to go up in flames sooner or later. There is no known cure and entire cities have been destroyed by the infected. It has been found that when the infected are in groups and one of them goes up, it causes a chain reaction among them all. Yeah, AA meetings were never like this, I reckon.

Harper Grayson is a nurse in her 20s. Dragonscale is spreading nonstop and she finds herself spending more and more time at the hospital, trying to provide some measure of care for the infected. Harper’s husband, Jakob, seems a decent enough bloke until he becomes convinced that Harper has infected the two of them with Dragonscale. She barely escapes with her life…and with the baby growing inside of her.

One of the patients Harper had treated while at the hospital was a child brought in by the titular Fireman. He [Fireman] is infected but has been working tirelessly to help other folks, so it seems. As it turns out, the Fireman has managed to do something seemingly no one else has – control the Dragonscale and master the flame.

As one might imagine, due to the inherent danger they bring to the table, the infected aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the rest of society. In fact, more and more often there are reports of infected people being hunted down and killed by vigilante groups. One of the loudest proponents of these groups is a talk radio host who goes by the moniker The Marlboro Man. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed in this naming choice, given that one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies is Harley Davidson & the Marlboro Man.

As a result of the hatred and abuse, hidden colonies of infected crop up and it is to one of these locations Harper ends up going, taken there by the Fireman. There, Harper learns that the Fireman isn’t the only one who has the Dragonscale infection under control. It is also at this camp, for lack of a better term, that we’re introduced to a whole litany of characters. I’ll be honest in that I felt like I had to keep a scorecard nearby as I went along so I could keep track of who’s who.

As it turns out, the Dragonscale infection reacts to the person’s emotional state. The more angry or anxious they get, the more their temperature rises, both figuratively and literally. The community manages to counteract this tendency by having daily singalongs.

Now, here’s the thing, dear readers. If you’re a regular here, you know we talk a fair amount about survival communities and what not. While group singing isn’t a bad idea as a way to pass the time and keep spirits up, getting to the point where it is a daily activity, so much so that if you miss a session people start to look crossways at you, that’s a sign that the community isn’t healthy.

This is also where I felt THE FIREMAN worked well on two levels. First, obviously, an engaging novel. Second, though, is that this part of the story serves as an excellent illustration of how a group of people, even one with nothing but good intentions, can slip sideways rather quickly. It doesn’t take much before the leader of the band, so to speak, starts to sing a slightly different tune.

Through it all, Harper is not just caring for those around her but for the life growing inside her ever-expanding belly. She’s rather certain the baby won’t be born infected, based on some research she’d done. But, what will happen with the baby? Who will take care of it if she has to give it up so it remains uninfected?

Harper and the Fireman might be the heroes of the story but neither of them are as pure as the driven snow. That’s one of the story’s strengths. The characters are first and foremost human. They come across as real. They act and react in ways that seem normal and expected. When the Fireman first realizes the extent of his abilities, there’s no “With great power comes great responsibility” epiphany. He feels and acts like a guy who’s been in a bar band for years and now has just landed the mother of all recording deals, complete with a tour bus filled with groupies and a never-ending supply of booze.

For her part, Harper quotes Mary Poppins from time to time but isn’t afraid to let loose with the cussing as the situation warrants. And as the story progresses, she finds this necessary more and more often. On top of that, she’s keeping secrets and isn’t sure who she can really trust.

Throughout THE FIREMAN, there are dozens of references to pop culture, from the fates of celebrities like George Clooney to the final plan of finding a safe haven with original MTV VJ Martha Quinn on an island off the coast of Maine. Hill also brings the funny from time to time, with several truly laugh-out-loud one-liners. Being able to elicit both laughter and tears from a reader through the course of a book shows talent and Hill has this in spades.

There’s a lot going on in THE FIREMAN. That stands to reason, given that the book tops out at 770 pages or so. While the ending is a little…soft…it is satisfying. This isn’t a typical post-apocalyptic novel, either. While there’s some detail here and there about how society has fared with the spread of the Dragonscale, most of the story concentrates on the characters. That’s not a bad thing but by the end of the book I was wanting to hear more about the world at large. That shouldn’t be surprising, given my background. I wanted to know how people were surviving. Was anyone still actually going to work? Were stores still operating? What were people eating or doing for water? I mean, I could surmise my own answers to those questions but I’d have loved to hear how it played out in the author’s head. [Joe, if you read this, I’m available to consult on such matters ;)]

All in all, I enjoyed THE FIREMAN, as I’ve enjoyed Hill’s other novels. My personal favorite is still HEART-SHAPED BOX but you’ll have a good time with any of his stuff.

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Pandemic – Interview and Giveaway

JimCobb : June 30, 2016 4:10 pm : Library at the End of the World

I reviewed Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca back when it first came out in hardcover. The paperback edition just came out so I thought this was a great time to sit down and chat with the author about this amazing book. You can read my original review of the book here. Details on the giveaway follow the interview.

Did the idea for this book come from news reports and such at the time or something else? The hardcover edition came out in 2014. Two years later, the subject matter is still very much top of mind in the world.

The Swine Flu/H1N1 pandemic of 2009-2010 was a definite inspiration. That particular flu only turned out to be as lethal as seasonal flu, but we obviously didn’t know the mortality rate at first. It was a highly contagious new influenza, and the more I researched flu pandemics and the potential for a contagious avian flu, the more the idea stuck with me for a story.

How much research went into this book? Many elements seem very fact-based, such as how the Blue Flu spreads and which age groups are affected the most.

I read about historical diseases as well as emerging infectious diseases in order to create my fictional flu, using books like The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, Influenza 1918 by Lynette Iezzoni, Spillover by David Quammen (one of my favorites) and Secret Agents: Emerging Epidemics by Madeline Drexler. The H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic is well-documented on the website, so I started with that timeline as an approximation for my fictional disease and its rapid spread. I modelled the mortality pattern after the Spanish influenza, since that fit with my plot (the very young and old are spared, leaving teens and their parents at risk), and because it was such a devastating illness.

Pandemic is set in New Jersey, so another source of information was state preparedness documents. I was surprised to find some plans online, like NJ’s “Antiviral Distribution Plan.” I also found a 2005 Homeland Security Document, “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.”

Based on their planning assumptions, I tried to imagine complications. For example, many people think it’s most likely that a pandemic would start someplace else, like Asia, and as a result the U.S. would have a warning period. What if that turned out to be untrue and we had little or no time to prepare?

One of my best resources was an interview I did with a local health officer in 2011. He spoke frankly about the H1N1 experience and gave me insight into what problems could potentially occur if a deadly pandemic struck. It was educational and also inspired some ideas, like the news story Lil (the main character) sees about who should receive the antiviral first if supplies were limited.

I do have to be careful about over-researching. For example, I spent a lot of time checking the spring migratory flyways of waterfowl, relating to my fictional transmission of bird flu to people directly. I have a whole folder on bird research which I didn’t use. (Fun fact: Wild waterfowl are carriers of all influenza A viruses. The World Health Organization calls them “natural reservoirs.”)

Something I really enjoyed as a reader was the dialogue in Pandemic. Many authors, myself included, struggle with this and often it sounds forced. You absolutely nailed it, though. Any tips or pointers?

Thank you! A few tips that I’ve found helpful:
I mostly stick to simple dialogue tags like “said” and “asked.” If a person sounds angry in the dialogue, for example, I don’t need to say, “she vented in an irate voice” at the end of the sentence, which can be a distraction to the reader. I try to work in some action between the spoken bits. This helps show the character’s emotion and can improve the rhythm of a sentence/paragraph. I also find reading everything aloud helps enormously.

Another aspect to the story I liked was how some of the characters eventually teamed up to not just help one another but to reach out to other survivors. This is something I’ve often stressed on this site and elsewhere – the idea of building a community rather than going it alone. Was this an element you’d planned ahead of time for the story or did it just develop organically?

The idea of a community and comparing people’s differing reactions was always something I wanted to include in Pandemic, because dire circumstances can bring out a range of behaviors, from charity to self-preservation. There’s a scene in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s novel, Life As We Knew It, where the mother reprimands her teen daughter for leaving to tell a friend when the town gives out free bags of much-needed food. The mom is furious because the supplies could have run out before the she returned. But her daughter naturally wants to help someone else she cares about. That small scene was memorable to me because it showed the conflict between our survival instincts and the desire to help people and I wanted to explore that in Pandemic. Should we help others even if doing so puts us at risk? It’s not an easy question, but the moral dilemma fascinated me.

Given the nature of my own blog and books, I have to ask – would you consider yourself any sort of prepper or survivalist, either before or after writing Pandemic?

The research I did caused me to think more seriously about emergency preparedness. I had the chance to test our preparations during an October ice storm which caused unexpected, widespread power outages in our suburban town and surrounding areas. We were still woefully unprepared. I’ve learned from that lesson and tried to improve, but it is definitely an ongoing process. As a result of my research for Pandemic, I do tend to wash my hands more than the average person, if that counts for anything.

Every author has one or two questions in their head that they would love to get asked in an interview. Go for it, the floor is yours ;)

One thing I’d like to share is how the Pandemic paperback differs from the hardcover. The editor and I worked to add some bonus materials, including some of my research that didn’t make it directly into the story, and a fun pandemic-inspired recipe called “pantry cuisine.” There’s also an educator’s guide to make it easy for teachers to use the book with students (ages 12+).

If your readers like survival fiction, I’d like to give a shout-out to a dystopian anthology I contributed to called Prep for Doom. It’s an integrated collection of twenty short stories that tell the tale of a single catastrophe (airborne Ebola) as experienced by many characters, some of whom cross paths. I wrote chapter thirteen, “Escape to Orange Blossom,” about a girl who tries to find safety for her autistic brother and herself during the disaster. There’s more about the project at

What’s next for you? Any plans to do a follow up to Pandemic?

Pandemic was always intended to be a standalone novel, so no sequel! I’m thrilled that it’s available in paperback, so that it can reach even more readers.

My next young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies, comes out in October. It’s a psychological thriller about how fragile our perception of reality is. Here’s a blurb:

Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a mysterious connection. When an eerie handprint appears on her mirror, Ella wonders if Dad’s warning her of danger as he did once before. Could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible? Or the grieving building superintendent? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Soon the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.

Visit Yvonne’s website to learn more about her and her books.

I’d like to thank Yvonne for taking the time to participate in the interview as well as donating a book for the giveaway below. Pandemic is a great book, one of my favorites.


One lucky person will win a copy of the paperback edition of Pandemic! To enter, post in the comments below your answer to this question – What one luxury item would you hope to have access to if you were forced to shelter in place for several weeks or longer due to a pandemic? Assume food, water, and other necessities are under control. Please keep your answers family-friendly. In order to keep spam to a minimum, comments are moderated. If yours doesn’t show up immediately, don’t panic.

When posting your answer, be sure to use a legit email address as that is how we will contact the winner. Entry deadline is 11:59PM (Central), Tuesday, July 5th, 2016. One winner will be chosen at random from all qualifying entries. Good luck!


Goodbye, Harris Publications

JimCobb : May 10, 2016 2:48 pm : Library at the End of the World

I was a fan of Harris Publications long before I began writing for them. I’d been a subscriber to New Pioneer and also snatched up American Frontiersman whenever it hit the stands. My introduction to the staff, though, came through my involvement with Panteao Productions. I’m one of the instructors for their Make Ready to Survive DVD series. While we were in Florida filming my segments, Panteao’s owner, Fernando Coelho, and I spent some time talking about the survival/prepper industry as a whole. He mentioned that Harris Publications, a company with whom he had a longstanding relationship, was planning a new magazine devoted to emergency preparedness. He gave me some contact info and suggested I reach out to them once we returned to civilization.

A short time later, I met via email a woman who would become one of my all-time favorite editors, Cara Donaldson. We traded a few messages about how Harris operated with respect to freelance writers as well as discussed a few potential article topics. She sent me a sample issue of Survivor’s Edge magazine so I could get a feel for the tone of the publication. I was admittedly eager to sell an article to them and pitched several ideas. I learned early on in my writing career that the first sale is always the hardest. Once you’ve placed the first article (on time and well written), future assignments can come easy.

Over the next couple of years, I placed several articles with Survivor’s Edge. Pitching articles to Cara went from me writing up a very detailed query, complete with reference links and such, to just sending her an email saying, “Hey, how about I do a review of this new lantern?”

Survivor’s Edge was an excellent publication. It had a great mix of actionable content, solid information, and reviews of products that real people could actually afford. The content was largely written by people whom I know personally to be very knowledgeable in their fields.

It was announced on April 29, 2016, that the company was shutting down. By all accounts, this took most people, including employees, by surprise. Harris had been in business since 1977 and during that time had published somewhere around 75 different magazines. They catered to niche markets, from decorating (Storage Solutions, Flea Market Style) to tactical (Ballistic, Combat Handguns) to outdoor living (New Pioneer, American Frontiersman).

I was a big fan of both New Pioneer and American Frontiersman. NP catered to those who were genuinely interested in homesteading and related pursuits. They’d profile families who were out there doing it. Alternative energy, gardening, animal husbandry, DIY projects, all that and more were included between the front and back covers of the magazine.

American Frontiersman was just plain fun, as far as I was concerned. I’ve long been fascinated by the whole mountain man lifestyle. In AF, you could learn how to cook using a reflector oven, how to properly preserve a rabbit skin, how to use a compass, and so much more. There were often profiles of historical mountain men and long hunters, too, and I’m a sucker for history.

I was very saddened by the news of Harris closing up shop, and not just because I was writing for Survivor’s Edge. I’m admittedly rather old school when it comes to reading and much prefer actual hard copy magazines and books over electronic editions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite. I love my Kindle and use it all the time. But, I favor actual pages between my fingers. I want to have the book or magazine on my shelf so I can easily reference it if needed.

My fear is that we’re going to see more and more magazines cease publication, at least in hard copy format. Back in 2014, I did a blog post called Prepper and Homesteading Magazine Round Up in which I listed several publications I felt were high quality and worth reading. Of the 10 on my list, 4 have since folded – Back Home, Self Reliance Illustrated, New Pioneer, and American Frontiersman. Here’s hoping the rest of them stick around a bit longer.


Graphic Audio

JimCobb : April 29, 2016 12:08 pm : Library at the End of the World

I’m a huge fan of Graphic Audio. Looking back on the blog posts here from the last few years, I can’t believe I’ve not mentioned them before.

I spend a fair amount of time in my car each week. My daily commute is about 35 minutes each way. Plus, my day job often has me driving 30-50 miles or more each day. Hell, there are days I’m in the car for six or more hours. I find much of what passes for entertainment on the radio boring so some time ago I started listening to books on CD. One thing I learned early on was that the quality of an audiobook really hinged on the narrator. I know, sounds obvious. The thing is, a narrator can make or break the audiobook. Doesn’t matter how good the story might be, if the narrator’s voice isn’t right, the book fails. At least, that’s how I feel about the whole thing.

Then, a buddy of mine introduced me to Graphic Audio. This was way different from any other audiobook I’d listened to before. These books aren’t narrated, they are performed! Each one has a full cast, with different actors and actresses playing roles. Throughout the performance you’ll hear sound effects, from gunshots to engines revving. If you’ve ever listened to any of the old radio shows from back in the day, these audiobooks are the modern equivalent.

For those interested in post-apocalyptic stuff, they have the following series:

The Survivalist by Jerry and Sharon Ahern
Deathlands by James Axler
Doomsday Warrior by Ryder Stacy

On top of those, they have a ton of science fiction, action/adventure, westerns, and comic related novels.

You can purchase the audiobooks either as downloads or CDs. The latter is a little more expensive since there is a physical product that has to be shipped out. They do have a lot of samples available on their site so you can check out the quality before buying. Or, see if your local library has any of these productions or if they can order them in through interlibrary loan.

Seriously, I can’t say enough about these audiobooks. They are very well done.

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Review: Prepper’s Natural Medicine

JimCobb : March 22, 2016 3:53 pm : Library at the End of the World

As an author who has had a book or two negatively reviewed because it turned out not to be what the reader had expected, let me tell you a few things up front about Prepper’s Natural Medicine by Cat Ellis.

1) If you’re looking for a field identification guide that will help you locate and procure wild medicinal plants, this isn’t it. There is nary a single photo in the entire book.

2) If you’re looking for a wild medicinal first aid guide that will tell you which plants you can gather for treating injuries and ailments while on the run, this has some of that but you’ll want to supplement with another manual.

3) If you’re looking for information on how to use natural remedies to combat infections and illnesses rather than visiting the pharmacy for everything, you’ll want to sit up and pay attention.

The author, Cat Ellis, comes by her knowledge honestly. She’s been a practicing herbalist since the 1990s and belongs to the American Herbalists Guild. Cat blogs at

In Chapter 1, the author talks about the differences between natural medicine and the modern equivalent. She then goes on to explain why preppers should look at learning natural or traditional forms of medicine. Her top five reasons why preppers need to learn natural medicine are:

1) Natural medicine works. It has been used successfully for thousands of years.

2) Natural medicine belongs to everyone. You don’t need anyone’s permission to use it or learn it. The knowledge is all out there.

3) Natural medicine is easy to learn. The beginning techniques and skills can be learned quickly and require little in the way of expensive equipment.

4) Natural medicine is sustainable over the long term. Because it relies upon herbs and other renewable resources, you don’t run the risk of the shelves at the pharmacy being picked clean.

5) Natural medicine provides valuable barter items. I’ve talked about bartering a time or two myself and the importance of having not just gold coins and candy bars but actual skills you can provide. Any skills related to the medical arena will be highly prized in a total grid down scenario.

Chapter 2 is Stocking the Home Apothecary. This might be my favorite chapter in the whole book, to be honest. She goes into great detail on what supplies you’ll want to make sure you have on hand as you learn and utilize natural remedies. This goes beyond just a supply of herbs and such. Distilled grain alcohol is used to prepare tinctures and to dull pain. Glycerin is used for syrups and ear drops. Activated charcoal is great for pulling toxins from wounds. Those are just a few quick examples. In this chapter are several pages of discussion on the use of essential oils, which is great information to have.

Other essentials include containers for your supplies and concoctions as well as a mortar and pestle, blender, and scale.

Chapter 3 discusses the basic skills involved with natural medicine. This also is where we begin to see a lot of the jargon involved with natural medicine – tisanes (herbal tea), infusions, decoctions, tinctures, elixirs, electuaries, pastilles, and more. Don’t worry, though. The author goes to great lengths to ensure the reader fully understands each term used. This chapter basically describes all the different ways you’ll be using the herbs and such, whether you’ll be ingesting it, spreading it on your skin, or inhaling vapors.

Chapter 4 is the nitty gritty, so to speak. In this chapter, she details 50 plants that have medicinal qualities. Here’s what I really appreciate in this section. For each plant, she provides the following information:

Common name
Scientific name
Parts of the plant used (flowers, leaves, etc.)
Actions (what the plant is used for, such as an analgesic or astringent)
Preparations (how the plant is used, such as tincture or poultice)
Uses (ailments or illnesses it alleviates)
Contraindications (when NOT to use the plant)

That last one is pretty valuable information. For example, Lobelia is one of only a couple of herbs capable of effectively dealing with an asthma attack. However, it could cause problems for someone with cardiac problems. Good to know.

As should be obvious, there are far more than just 50 known plants that have medicinal value. The author chose for inclusion in this book the ones that she felt were not only very important but were available throughout much of the United States. Again, though, this is not a field identification guide for plants. You’ll need something like the Peterson Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs for that purpose.

Chapter 5 is all about first aid. Here is where we find dozens of recipes, for lack of a better term, where you learn how to combine and use the plants discussed in the previous chapter. Everything from burns to constipation, tooth infection to wound care is covered. For each, the author gives the list of ingredients and the steps to turn it into an effective treatment. Worth noting is that she suggests making some of these mixtures and such in advance rather than trying to toss it all together at the drop of a hat.

Throughout the book, the author stresses over and over the importance of labeling your medicines. This is crucial as you don’t want to have to guess at the contents of a container. Label everything right away so you don’t lose track of what you’re doing.

Next, in Chapter 6 the author discusses what she called Everyday Natural Medicine. Basically, here we’re talking about preventative care, chronic illness, and common ailments like the flu. Proper nutrition is discussed, of course, and there’s a recipe for “Cat’s Favorite Nutritional Syrup” included here. Among the chronic stuff discussed are arthritis and diabetes, the latter of which is very popular topic in the prepper community. The author suggests it is possible to at least address the blood sugar issues, if not alleviate the problems completely, through the use of natural medicine.

The book ends with an awesome appendix. Here, the author groups the plants by use (analgesics, antimicrobial, etc.). This is quite a time saver. When you’re faced with a specific type of ailment, you’ll want to be able to find what will help without having to page through the entire book. For each table, she lists the herbs by name and then a sentence or two on how the herb is used, such as topically or as a tincture.

Here’s the main reason I like this book. I’ve consulted several “natural medicine” books in the last few years. All are great at telling me that white willow bark can be used as a pain reliever. Few of them say anything about how you’re to use the bark for that purpose. Here, we’re given both the preparation and the recommended dose. This is valuable information to have in hard copy format. If the power goes out, so does your access to the Internet.

Highly recommended. You can find this book here on Amazon as well as through all major booksellers.

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Review: The Complete Survival Shelters Handbook

JimCobb : March 22, 2016 12:08 pm : Library at the End of the World

On the list of survival priorities, maintaining your core body temperature is number one. Hypothermia is a very real danger, even in relatively mild conditions. On top of that, working to make yourself at least somewhat comfortable has a tremendous impact on morale. You’ll feel better about your situation if you’re warm and dry, even if you’re still lost and hungry.

The Complete Survival Shelters Handbook is an excellent resource and instruction guide for all manner of methods for getting out of the rain and snow. The book starts, rightfully so, with a discussion on clothing and sleeping gear. Your clothes are always your first line of defense, your first shelter, in any situation. Ensuring you are properly dressed for conditions is important. There is ample information here on different fabrics to consider for the base, the mid, and the outer layers of clothing.

In this first part of the book, there is also some pretty good instruction on making your own cordage. Why? Because cordage is extremely useful in a wide range of DIY shelters and if you don’t have paracord or bankline in your pocket or pack, you might need to improvise a bit.

From there, the book divides shelters into three basic categories:
–Shelters made from natural materials
–Shelters made with modern materials
–Shelters purchased from stores

In the natural materials section, the author covers nine different shelters, everything from a debris hut to snow caves. Each shelter is discussed in terms of its pros and cons and includes detailed instructions for construction, accompanied by several photos. I found it interesting that the author is not a fan of the lean to shelter, as this is one of the natural material shelters detailed in just about every single survival manual I’ve read. I don’t disagree with the points he makes, either. Lean to shelters are woefully ineffective when it comes to warmth. They are fun to build when you’re just out screwing around in the woods, as many a kid can attest. But, when it comes to true survival, there are far better options such as the classic debris hut.

The next section of the book tackles DIY shelters using modern materials. The materials used include the ever-popular reflective emergency blankets as well as tarps and the Scandinavian Lavvu. No, I’d never heard of that one, either. It is sort of like a short, squat Native American teepee made of canvas. A full ten pages of the book detail step-by-step instructions for making this particular shelter. It isn’t something you’ll slap together on the fly but it looks very durable and long-lasting.

Tarp shelters are mentioned but all too briefly, in my opinion. There are a ton of different tarp shelter layouts, each with different attributes and I wish the author would have gone into more detail on more of them. Still, the information provided is valuable and on point.

About 25 pages are devoted to the construction of a yurt. For those not in the know, a yurt is a traditional Mongolian shelter that has a circular shape and sort of a peaked or conical roof. Again, not something you’ll quickly build in an emergency but if you’re planning a long-term offgrid situation in the field, this might be the way to go.

The store-bought shelter section of the book covers tents, hammocks, and bivvy bags. For each, the author goes through the terminology involved as well as what to look for when shopping. I would have liked to see more information on choosing a hiking or backpacking tent as this portion of the chapter only runs a couple of pages. Hammocks get far more space than tents.

The last chapter of the book is a brief discussion of mental preparedness. Here, the author details four types of mental survival skills:

–Drilling or practicing
–Understanding emotions and stress
–Gaining confidence
–Adopting the right mental attitude.

As he stresses, it isn’t enough to read through the book. You need to get out there and practice building these shelters. Make the mistakes now when you have the luxury of learning from them for next time.

Overall, I liked the book. I feel it has some great information that goes well beyond what I’ve seen in other survival manuals regarding shelter building. Some of the shelters discussed, like the yurt and the lavvu, I thought were interesting but not really “survival shelters” in the way I understand the term. While they’ll certainly keep you alive, constructing them from scratch isn’t something you’ll be able to do in a couple of hours. In other words, these aren’t all expedient survival shelters, though many of them do fall into that category.

The author, Anthonio Akkermans, is well-versed in the subject. He grew up in the Netherlands and developed an affinity for the outdoors at a very young age. He has traveled the world learning and teaching primitive survival skills. He’s also worked as a consultant for TV and radio.

You can find The Complete Survival Shelter Handbook here on Amazon. It is also available from most other major booksellers.

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Review: Wild (book and movie)

JimCobb : October 1, 2015 4:32 pm : Library at the End of the World

Let me get this out of the way right up front. Neither the book nor the movie were at all what I was expecting. I’m reviewing them together as the movie very closely follows the book, unlike many movie adaptations today. I guess, with that in mind, I can’t say the movie was a total surprise since I’d read the book first.

Here’s what I thought I was getting. A woman’s adventure hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, complete with her personal observations on what worked and what didn’t. Basically, her adventures on the trail.

Here’s what I got. A woman who’s life has been falling apart for quite some time, despite the fact that she’s only 26, decides to embark upon a journey of self-discovery on the Pacific Crest Trail. Roughly half of said journey is spent inside her own head, revisiting traumatic experiences (many of them self-inflicted) and infidelities. Much of the time actually spent on the trail is focused on the ridiculously large pack she carries and the ill-fitting boots she wears.

See, here’s what happened. I saw a trailer for the movie version of Wild at the beginning of one or another movie we’d picked up at Redbox. The trailer focused on the hiking and the camping, the difficulties and such. Plus, I and my wife both like Reese Witherspoon. She’s a tremendously talented actress who’s often a lot of fun. So, a week or two later when I saw a copy of the book at a bookstore, I bought it without even glancing through it.

Now, to be fair, this isn’t a bad book. Cheryl Strayed is actually a pretty talented writer. My problem isn’t with the competency of the writing but with the perceived misrepresentation of the story. I signed on for hiking, camping, encounters with wild animals and Mother Nature. What I got was whining, innumerable flashbacks to sex and drug use, and then a bit more whining.

The movie was well done. The scenery was outstanding and, thankfully, the movie wasn’t filled with “shaky cam” like so many films today. Ms. Witherspoon does quite well in the role. She’s very believable. But, again, the movie I saw wasn’t the movie I’d been led to believe it would be. There weren’t quite as many flashback scenes as there are in the book, of course, but there’s still quite a few. Not quite as much whining as in the book, either, which was refreshing.

Now, why in the world would I have wanted to see the movie after having read the book? I figured I’d give it a shot and see if it mirrored the book or if it followed more closely the way the trailer made it look.

All in all, like I said, the book nor the movie are inherently bad. Both are well executed and interesting. But, if you’re looking for a true “trail” book, you’re going to have to search elsewhere.

For those interested, the book and the movie are both available from Amazon.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

JimCobb : September 28, 2015 1:25 pm : Library at the End of the World

Max Rockatansky and I met back in 1983 or thereabouts. We were introduced by my father, who brought home a VHS copy of The Road Warrior to watch on our fairly new VCR. My Dad had won the gadget at work a couple of months prior, as I recall, and picked up the movie at one of the video rental businesses that had just started cropping up.

Simply put, I was blown away. This was the first post-apocalyptic movie I’d seen and it immediately cemented my love for the genre. The cars were awesome, as was Max’s sawed-off double barrel shotgun. In due course, I tracked down a copy of the first movie, Mad Max. I thought it was okay but not nearly as awesome as the sequel.

Then, a few years later in 1985 came Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. While better than the first Mad Max, at least in my estimation, it still wasn’t as good as Road Warrior. It does, however, have one of the best fight scenes in the history of cinema, when Max takes on Blaster inside Thunderdome. Very original and well done.

While I’m not enough of a Road Warrior fan to have attended one of the various conventions and events that have gone on, I’m enough of a geek to have known about them. Heck, I even had a toy sawed-off double barrel shotgun when I was a kid. Can’t for the life of me find even a pic of it today but I assure you, they existed and were sold at Toys R Us and elsewhere.

Over the last 30 years, we’d been given hints, teasers, that we’d someday see a new Mad Max adventure. Various rumors were floated around so many times, it was almost ridiculous. When we found out it was truly going to happen, that a script was finalized and shooting had begun, the excitement was off the charts.

When Mad Max: Fury Road hit theaters, many of my friends were first in line. They, like me, had been waiting three decades for this. Almost without exception, reviews from them were extremely positive. Great movie! Worth the wait!

Last night, my wife and picked up Fury Road at Redbox. We grabbed some chips and candy, dimmed the lights, and let ‘er rip.


Seriously, that’s what I thought about this movie I’d waited much of my life to see. Meh.

The plot, such as it is, is very muddled at the beginning. Granted, none of the Mad Max movies are really known for intricate storytelling. But, I had a difficult time understanding quite a bit of the garbled dialogue in Fury Road, so following the plot was sort of like trying to read braille while wearing gloves. I could get a general sense of what was going on but that’s about it.

Near as I can tell, the gist of the story is that there’s this community of survivors in the middle of the wastelands. The leader, Immortan Joe, controls access to water, so he sort of has everyone under his thumb. Now, this dude is pretty scary, what with hoses and what not connecting him to the life giving apparatus he wears. He also has a harem, filled with about a half dozen scantily clad young women. Apparently the idea is to use these women not only for his own entertainment but for breeding.

Early in the movie, Max is attacked and captured by a patrol of “war boys” who belong to this little community. They bring him in to use as a source of blood for transfusions. The war boys are all extremely pale skinned, almost albino in appearance, and there are references to them being short-lived due to radiation sickness or something. Not too long after Max is hooked up to one of these war boys, the harem is found missing. Joe immediately calls up all of his war boys to go out in search of the women. The one attached to Max, apparently named Nux, figures out a way to keep his “blood bag” with him – strapping Max to the front of his vehicle.

Side note: It seems apparent to me that George Miller did some homework in the genre by reading some of the popular post-apoc books of the last few decades.  In Fury Road, many of the vehicles are referred to as “war wags.”  Wags is short for wagons, I presume.  The same name was used extensively in the Deathlands series, written by a variety of authors all using the James Axler house name.  The same name was used, I think, in the related series Outlanders created by Mark Ellis.

The idea of using radiation diseased people as soldiers was explored quite a bit in the Outrider series by Richard Harding.  There, the Radleps (radiation lepers) were given the best of everything by their leader in exchange for complete loyalty to the end of their lives.  I find this particularly interesting in that the Outrider series, published 1984-1985 or thereabouts, was itself obviously inspired by The Road Warrior.

From there, the story gets increasingly outlandish as it progresses. While the car chases and crashes are indeed quite well done, that’s about all the movie had going for it. I mean, at various stages throughout the battles and chases, you see that Immortan Joe has a war wag equipped with a wall of speakers and a guy playing a giant, fire throwing electric guitar as they scream through the desert. Yes, I’m aware of the long history of music being played during battles and such. This, however, was just a bit over the top.

Another befuddlement, and this is true of all of the Mad Max movies, is the subject of fuel. On one hand, fuel is said to be very scarce and is probably the single most valuable commodity in the world of Mad Max. On the other hand, these guys have so many vehicles and go pedal to the metal for hours on end, you have to wonder just where the gas is supposed to be coming from. I mean, in Road Warrior, they at least addressed this a little bit by having an oil refinery be present in the story. Here, not so much.

I know, I know, this sort of movie is supposed to be escapism at its best. Logic and common sense aren’t applicable here.

The other problem I had with Fury Road was the excessive use of flashbacks. Max suffers from rapidly occurring hallucinations of people, specifically a young girl, whom he apparently failed to save at some point prior to this movie. Some have mentioned that this is supposed to be his child, killed in the first Mad Max movie. That’s incorrect. The child killed in that movie was an infant boy, not a toddler or older girl. The reason the flashbacks were bothersome to me is because it was as though we the viewers were supposed to know and understand the backstory alluded to in them. Part of the problem, too, is that we really don’t know where in Max’s life Fury Road takes place. George Miller himself has said the chronology of the movies is a bit fuzzy. While ostensibly this movie takes place after Thunderdome, we have no idea how much time has really passed. This leads to a rather interesting fan-based theory on the whole Mad Max mythology.

Now, all of that said, I do think Tom Hardy did well with the material he’d been given. Max had originally been brought to life by Mel Gibson, of course. Hardy’s version of Max appears a little beefier than Gibson’s but just as much of a “loner who eventually develops a heart” as the original. Personally, as much of a fan of the character as I am, I had no issues with another actor taking the reins. Hardy did a fine job.

I don’t know. Maybe the movie was just too hyped, too anticipated, for it to be anything other than a disappointment to me. Sort of like when you’re a kid and you want this one certain toy so badly and when you finally get it for Christmas or your birthday, it just isn’t nearly as much fun as the commercials said it would. As a movie, Fury Road was okay. Not great, not horrible, just okay. As a follow up to Road Warrior, though, I was greatly disappointed. I wanted to badly to enjoy this movie….

I’m told there are more Mad Max movies in the works, but I have no idea just how far along in the process they are at this time. Fury Road was, by all accounts, a successful movie so I have no doubt the powers that be in Hollywood are interested in adding another car or two to the money train, so to speak. If/when a new Mad Max hits, I’ll see it. I’m too much of a fan to not do so. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.

You can find Mad Max: Fury Road here on Amazon, should you be looking to keep a copy on hand. I might still pick it up on DVD, if only for the bonus material. I’m sort of waiting to see if they are going to come out with a box set of all four movies. Not sure if there are rights issues or anything with regards to that but it would seem to be a slam dunk, especially as we get closer to the holiday shopping season.

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Survival Fiction

JimCobb : July 23, 2015 9:48 am : Library at the End of the World

My show last night on Around the Cabin was focused on survival fiction, both novels and movies. As promised during the show, I’ve compiled the following list of books and movies that I discussed during the show. All of these links lead to Amazon but I’d encourage you to seek out the titles at your local library. Even if they don’t have it on their shelves, they can probably order it for you via interlibrary loan.

For the book series I mentioned during the show, I’ve linked to the first book in the series.

Also, as I mentioned during the show, this list isn’t all-inclusive of every novel or movie I’ve enjoyed, read, or watched. Nobody has time for a list that large. If you don’t see your own favorites listed, feel free to add them in the comments below.

Ashfall series by Mike Mullin
Rule of Three series by Eric Walters
Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca
Wake Up Call by John D McCann
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
One Second After by William R Forstchen
World War Z by Max Brooks
Survivalist Series by Arthur Bradley
The Weller by Adam Whitlatch

Red Dawn (1984)
Red Dawn (2012)
Tomorrow, When the War Began
The Day After Tomorrow
The Day After
The Edge
The Road Warrior

World Gone Wild is an excellent resource for finding additional disaster/survival movies. It is a comprehensive encyclopedia of end of the world movies. It is quite good and makes for rather entertaining reading all on its own. My full review of the book can be found here.


The Survival Library

JimCobb : July 9, 2015 9:56 am : Library at the End of the World

My show last night on Around the Cabin was focused on putting together a survival library. As promised during the show, I’ve assembled a quick list of the books I recommended all preppers have on hand in their survival library. You’ll note that I refrained from listing any of my books below. I was going to but then thought that might be uncouth or even downright rude. If you’re interested in my books, make with the clicky here.

The Survival Medicine Handbook by Joe and Amy Alton

Build the Perfect Survival Kit (2nd edition) by John D McCann

Bug-Out: Reality vs Hype by John D. McCann

Stay Alive! By John D. McCann

Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery

Storey’s Country Skills by John and Martha Storey

The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley

The Survival Group Handbook by Charley Hogwood

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Canning and Preserving All-in-One for Dummies

The Complete Photo Guide to Home Improvement

As I noted during the show, it is critical that you don’t just stick these books on a shelf and forget about them. You should read through them, not only so you’ll know what information is found in each book but to learn the vital skills and knowledge you’ll need should disasters strike. Skills trump stuff, every single time.

Your survival library should also contain the instruction or operating manuals for all of your survival gear (water filters, radios, etc.), your home mechanicals (furnace, central air, water heater, etc.), your major appliances (stove, refrigerator, freezer, etc.), and your major tools (chainsaw, lawn tractor, etc.). A great way to store all of these manuals is to use a 3 ring binder and some page protectors.

It is important to keep your survival library at least somewhat organized, too. Knowing you have the information you need in a specific book and being able to find that book are two entirely different things.

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