Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Book Review: John Ringo’s “Black Tide Rising” Series

     You say you’ve had enough about zombies? The horror no longer horrifies, and the humor has been milked dry? I’d have agreed with you...three days ago. That was when I read Sarah Hoyt’s enthusiastic endorsement of the Black Tide Rising series:

  1. Under a Graveyard Sky
  2. To Sail a Darkling Sea
  3. Islands of Range and Hope
  4. Strands of Sorrow

     Yes, I really did read all four books in the space of two days. I’m tempted to go back to the beginning and read them a second time, and I shall tell you why.

     Welcome to the world of H7D3, a tailored virus with some interesting effects. First, it will give you the flu. It seems to be the flu, anyway. But with this flu, you get a bonus: a second, central nervous system-invading virus, that turns you into what, for concision’s sake, I’ll call a zombie. It’s about 99% effective.

     Mind you, it doesn’t make you the “classical” sort of zombie who’s died and returned to a kind of pseudolife. You don’t need to die first. But in all important regards, you could have stepped right out of any of the Resident Evil video games. It makes you non-rational, very bitey, and beyond all hope of a cure. The only thing to do with (or for) an H7D3 zombie is kill it.

     Nasty, eh? Let’s hope not to get this little bug. And indeed, a vaccine is possible...but to make it, you have to do some rather unpleasant, nominally criminal stuff. Besides, it takes a lot more time to make it than H7D3 takes to propagate. So if I may recur to the vernacular, the world is screwed.

     But some people are prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse. Among them is the family Smith:

  • Steven John Smith, former Australian paratrooper, naturalized American citizen, and high school history teacher, moniker Papa Wolf;
  • Stacey Smith, unsung engineering genius and wife of Steven Smith, moniker Mama Wolf;
  • Sophia Smith, elder daughter of Steven and Stacey, age 15, moniker Seawolf;
  • Faith Smith, younger daughter of Steven and Stacey, age 13, moniker Shewolf.

     These four escape infection by grabbing a sailboat and taking to the Atlantic. But that’s not all they do. Not by a longshot.

     After several weeks at sea, Papa Wolf decides that he and his family are going to take up arms against the zombies. Why not, after all? Papa Wolf’s background has equipped him rather well for paramilitary operations on land or sea. Moreover, he’s trained the other members of his family to a terrifyingly high standard. Emphasis on the terrifyingly, in at least one case.

     There are, of course, other survivors. H7D3 leaves about one percent of the human race unaffected, whether from natural immunity or prior isolation. So the family Smith sets out to find other ships at sea, extract any survivors, and forge a task force out of them. Military survivors are persuaded to join the effort. They must accept Papa Wolf’s informal command, which chaps a few fannies at first. But the Smiths’ bizarre and wholly unexpected level of competence at killing zombies and commanding others to do the same converts most rescued rather swiftly to the cause. More and more boats join Wolf Squadron’s seemingly ultra-Quixotic quest.

     (What’s that you say? Of course it’s called Wolf Squadron! What else would it be called?)

     The more survivors Wolf Squadron locates and extracts, the more it can extract and the wider its operational scope becomes. Yet despite this geometric process, and despite the rescues of some very high military officers, the Smith family remains in command of the effort.

     With that, it’s time to say a few words about the Smith daughters, “Seawolf” Sophia and “Shewolf” Faith.

     Seawolf, despite her youth and relative inexperience, proves to be quite a capable mariner – and in the fullness of time, a capable ship captain and division commander. No one takes her least, not for long. Eventually she decides to acquire an additional skill: piloting a helicopter gunship. And yes, she’s just as good at that.

     Seawolf alone would make for an excellent solo protagonist. She has what it takes to carry her own stories. Perhaps some such stories will eventually be told. But Shewolf...

     Thirteen year old Shewolf is given to describing herself in rather modest terms. Consider this example from an exchange with a freshly rescued Marine drill instructor who unwisely takes her lightly:

     “I am a fucking psychotic bitch so far over the redline I can’t see it with an Abrams’ gunsight. I am a zombie-killing monster. All my Marines swear I have to drink a pint of zombie blood to wake up in the morning.”

     That description is both heartfelt and entirely accurate. As for what Shewolf means by “my Marines,” you’ll need to read the books. But as for what “my Marines” think of her, we have this equally heartfelt testimonial from Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tommy Sands:

     “These men are United States Marines, yes, and they will continue to do their duty. But they are Marines who have lost everything. Family, friends, buddies, country. We are one and all lost and adrift on a darkling sea. You, Miss Smith, have become not their pin-up girl but their heart and soul. They would follow me into hell. Charge any shore, face any fire. That’s what Marines do. I am their Gunny. If you hinted that Satan had a case of ammo you particularly liked, they would charge in without a bucket of water.”

     And every word of that is accurate as well.

     I’ve said enough, and to say more would involve spoilers. These books are much too good for me to spoil. So if you have even a little taste for military-flavored fiction, read them. I honestly cannot praise them highly enough.


Dystopic said...

Loved that series. One of my favorite reads from last year. I also endorse heartily.

Knitebane said...

Likewise. This series occupied my every free moment from beginning to end. And in this series John Ringo even managed to make it family friendly. Maybe Larry Correia is rubbing off on him.

Rick C said...

I agree--great story.

Another pseudo-zombie series I read last year was by Bobby Adair. 9 books so far, although the series may be over. It wasn't as gripping as Ringo's, but it wasn't very bad. It's another "not really zombies but victims of infection" series. Some interesting variations are that victims are all marked by skin paling to white, and the damage a person suffers falls on a spectrum: most people are reduced to more-or-less mindless victims like in Ringo's books, but some retain a modicum of intelligence, and some, like the main character, keep all their intelligence. This leads to a startling change that is central to the action throughout the series.

HoundOfDoom said...

+ infinity to this series and Ringo's 'Kildar' series as well. Only problem I have is that he's slowed down in pumping out new books - he must have raging carpal tunnel after all the writing he's done.

Would really like to know who was behind the virus and why. The distribution method at the start of the first book was pretty ingenious.