The Pulse by Scott B. Williams

Posted on: July 18, 2012

In The Pulse, a solar flare knocks out the electrical grid. Given the story’s focus on just a few primary characters, it is unclear exactly how widespread the effect is but we are shown there is no electrical power throughout North American and into the Caribbean.

The bulk of the book follows two distinct but parallel storylines. The first involves Casey Drager and her fellow students at Tulane University, Jessica and Grant. They are on campus the night the solar flare hits and quickly realize in the morning that things are…different. There is confusion, even a bit of panic, as students and faculty try to figure out what has happened.

At the same time, a thousand or more miles away, Casey’s father, Artie, and his brother, Larry, are at sea in a sailing vessel. Larry, a very experienced sailor, has the know how to get them to port without using their formerly useful GPS and other fancy gadgets. But they are as confused as anyone else as to what exactly took out their equipment. Once they reach port and find out the extent of the flare’s impact, they immediately resolve to travel to New Orleans and rescue Casey from they expect to be mass panic and chaos. They are joined by Larry’s crew mate, Scully, a “Rastaman.”

Grant, Casey’s friend and crush, has quite a bit of experience in wilderness survival, owing to his having lived with and studied primitive tribes. His family owns a cabin well off the beaten path that is stocked with food and supplies. Unfortunately, the cabin is about 90 miles away. Despite the daunting task of riding a bike that far, Casey and Jessica join Grant in his trip to the cabin.

Along the way, we are treated to scenes of desperation and violence. People quickly realize trucks won’t be delivering groceries to stores any time soon and begin looting.

Artie, Larry, and Scully are involved with their own trip, taking Larry’s untested catamaran on a journey of a thousand miles. Battling pirates and weather, they struggle to make the trip in record time.

Without giving too much away, I can say that neither parties’ trips go completely as planned.

I really enjoyed this book. While the amount of knowledge I possess about sailing could fit into a shot glass (and still have room for a good belt), I’ve no doubt every detail is accurate. The author is an extremely knowledgeable and competent sailor and this shows in his writing. I struggled with a few of the technical descriptions of what was taking place on the various boats mentioned in the story, I could piece together through the context what was happening.

I also really liked Scully. Many authors have a difficult time with portraying accents in a story and either just leave it out altogether or make a clumsy attempt as phonetic spellings. Here though, it is very easy to “hear” Scully speaking.

However, I did feel the story ended in a bit of a rush. It was as though Scott was nearing his target word count and realized he needed to speed things along. This didn’t detract too much from the overall story though.

Scott has said, and I’d agree, that The Pulse is not a survival manual disguised as a novel. While there are plenty of little tidbits of survival lore scattered throughout, the story is, first and foremost, a story. The characters are well portrayed. We care what happens to them. They are not just stock characters playing a role.

All in all, I’d recommend this book to anyone in the market for a new take on survival fiction. Very well written and engaging, once you start you’ll not want to put it down. You can find it here on Amazon.

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