Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Wasteland Chronicles Omnibus by Kyle West

One day, I realized that my queue was empty and that I didn't have any more books to review from people who had sent one to me to review. (Not that that's a hint or anything. I mean, sure, if there were an author reading this and they sent me their work they'd be next up. But feel free to ignore that fact if you want. I can always review stuff I've gotten off of Bookbub or Netgalley. On the other hand, I'm always very appreciative of the authors who do submit. I wuvs them and stuff. So if you've got a SF/F story of at least novella length the submission guidelines are to send either a .pdf or a .epub to and ask for a review. If you add a .jpg of your cover I'll use it at the top of your review. If not, I'll post the review without one.) So, I went back into Mount To Be Read on my Nook and decided I'd dig up something that looked good that I hadn't read yet. Lo and behold, I came upon an omnibus edition by an author I had never read. The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition was just chilling on my home page on my Nook looking neglected.  It sounded good and I've been a fan of post-apocalyptic works since probably Mad Max (the original not the new one) and in print since at least Battlefield Earth. This one sounded good. I was right. It's got it all.

Fans of the blog know that I avoid spoilers whenever possible. I'm wondering how possible it's going to be to avoid them this time. There is a lot to these first three books (Apocalypse, Origins and Evolution) and there are a lot of twist and turns. Even when things look like they're getting beter then get worse. West doesn't drop boulders on his characters, he drops entire worlds. In one case literally as the Apocalypse has passed not in the form of a war but in the form of the Sweet Meteor of Death (ok, so he names it Ragnarok) come to crash into the northern United States. Things then go from bad to worse.

The United States government established a bunker system before the asteroid struck. It was believed that the bunkers would provide the manpower necessary to repopulate the United States after the initial shock of the strike and associated environment issues died down and things were back to normal-ish. Then the bunkers started to fall, one by one and nobody, or at least nobody in Bunker 108, where our hero Alex Keener is from, knows why. It is believed that some probably fell prey to bandits. Some others were too big for that to be the case though. Case in point being Bunker 1, home of the President of the United States and his Cabinet. It fell years ago and the reason it fell is a mystery. One day is was there and broadcasting. The next day it stopped. That's all we know at the beginning of the book. The reason later becomes obvious, but I won't say why here.

I mentioned Mad Max earlier and it's a fit comparison. Not so much the battle over fuel per se but the existence of the Wasteland and the danger of traveling. Actually, Alex begins the story on foot and alone in an area with no law and order. That's about as safe as you would imagine under the circumstance. He gets lucky at one point. That's as much as I'll say for now. It really does move the story forward at this point and gets us involved in the larger world.

At first, it's a simple introduction into the wastelands of California. It's much colder there than it would be now because of the dust thrown into the air by Ragnarok. Vehicles are scarce to the point of being almost unheard of. Batteries are considered to be a form of currency. Food is scarce and gangs not only abound but hold most political power goes along with gang membership.

Then things get weirder. We find out about Blights, where fungus grows and monsters live. Eventually we find out where they came from. There is some serious weirdness here, but it explains what happened in Bunker 108 when this whole series started. Then we find out why they're spreading... And I'm revealing too much. Just believe me when I say we end up understanding better because Alex has to understand it.

I like the way this works though. First, we learn about our main character. We start to care about his and his motivations. He shows us some guts. Just as we fall in love with Alex, he moves forward into a world that is much bigger and more complicated than he realizes. I like this for another reason as well: Since Alex doesn't  know much about the world around his bunker we can learn about the environment along with him. This works well because West can tell us what we need to know without info-dumping for pages on end. It's a good technique; enlightening and entertaining.

The rest of the cast is easy to believe and fits into the world nicely. From Makara, the Raider turned good-guy to Anna, the warrior woman with a katana they all fit into the world nicely. They do what they should given their established personalities. They make us care about them. The bad guys work as well: Emperor Augustus of the Nova Roman Empire is an evil man by our lights: He uses slaves and holds gladiatorial games to get rid of his enemies. By his lights though, he is a hero. He has managed to build an empire and establish law and order within its boundaries. He has protected his people from the predation of those from outside his empire and established economic well-being for many. Sure, he's a power mad dictator, but he doesn't see it that way. It's all for the "greater good of the people."

I'll be honest about something here: I bought the books as an omnibus. They work perfectly as a seamless book but I'm not sure how they would do separately. That's not to say that they would be bad, but I actually had to look at the table of contents at what point to find out what book I was on. I thought I was still on the first one and it turns out that I was about halfway through the second one.  There seriously is no definite ending to these books that I noticed. That doesn't make them bad stories. It's just kind of weird.

I do have one other complaint about the works in question: I'm guessing Mr West doesn't have much experience with firearms. Alex carries a nine millimeter Beretta throughout the series. Don't get me wrong. I've been trained on the M9 Beretta. It's not a bad firearm for what it's used for. It's just that it's a handgun and no one in their right mind goes into a situation expecting a problem with a handgun if you have any chance at all to upgrade it. Rifles have longer range and hit harder. The reliance on a handgun is a bit strange. I'm guessing he just didn't know any better.

I have not yet read the last four books but I don't know that I'd start The Wasteland Chronicles in the middle. A lot of the same reasons I gave for liking what I've read so far would make it difficult to catch up if you start in book three or four. West Heinliens his world building wonderfully but his lack of info-dumps and filling in past details may make it difficult to catch up. That's alright though. The first book is Apocalypse. Just start there or with the Omnibus, the way I did.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Batteries

The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition
Kyle West
Self Published, 2015

The Wasteland Chronicles: Omnibus Edition and the works it contains are available for purchase at the links below:

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