Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review: Ember

Ember Ember by Brock Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I pay careful attention to the winners of the SC First Novel Prize, because it is a good way to know of new local authors, and it supports an independent press, Hub City. I really enjoyed an earlier winner of this prize, Minnow.

I would say this novel felt more like a first novel. I have read better books about apocalypse through an ice age or the sun dying - The Sunlight Pilgrims wasn't perfect but had more going on, for instance. Adams takes a chance here by making the book completely about the people attempting to survive. Because of this, the story of how they got here and how everything happened needs to make sense. But in those crucial moments, the reader isn't told enough.

The sun is dying, and the earth is getting colder. This much we know, and they refer to the sun as "ember." The American government has sent nuclear bombs to the sun to force some kind of heat reaction, and the public statement is that it was successful (I can almost hear it now, "We send the best rockets, our rockets beat the sun, it was yuge.") But the other part of the story, that there are these secret Minutemen (former "Bunker Boys," the preppers that emerged after previous signs of collapse) organizing to overthrow the government all along, and something that they did ruined electricity forever - well, I'm sorry but I'm going to need a better explanation than "something that they did." Apart from that issue, electricity wouldn't be a longterm solution if the sun were dying anyway.

The lack of preparation is not surprising. We see through ongoing climate based disasters how quickly a local area can devolve into chaos. But what about the technologies that don't require electricity? Where are the battery powered short-wave radios, at least for communication? How did the American-based Minutemen manage to disrupt the electric grid of the entire world? And what is the reason for a terrorist act later in the novel? A lot of facts like this, that seem central to the world building of the novel, are left unanswered, and it makes it a less satisfying read because of them. Another convenience is that characters are finding themselves surprised to be "good at" animal butchering or killing others, despite no training in these areas. It's a bit of a stretch. And if you're magically going to find a talent, why isn't anyone learning how to build fires?

I was also annoyed by the naivete of the main characters. Nobody knew not to leave their stuff unmonitored and nobody seemed to think twice about trusting strangers, and this lack of common sense led to most of the terrible things in the novel. Not everyone needs to be a trained soldier but they are adults who have taken care of themselves thus far, including two of the characters working in Africa!

That reminds me that the National Guard is portrayed pretty pitifully here too. I'm not pro-military but it was hard to believe that the minute the power grid goes down, they don't have training or abilities to that end. Especially if, as we're told, they've had three years of warning that this is coming. Perhaps a badly funded National Guard, with a leader who doesn't know about these things.

As a local, though, I have to say it is quite satisfying to read about the locations I know being used as the setting - Lake Hartwell and its one highway, Clemson, the upstate, Atlanta, Asheville, and the Biltmore Estate. I also kind of liked that there is a character who is a librarian and ends up taking charge, however I feel like I would probably go for a park ranger or nature guide over a librarian, personally (and I am a librarian!)

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access to this title through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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