December 20, 2014

Review: Restoring Harmony

Restoring Harmony
Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bah. Two clunkers in a row. I'm now reading Peter Watts' Echopraxia, however, so things are looking up.

This is the third book this year I didn't finish, and I gave this one every chance. I read on far past the point where the idiotic plot really started to bother me, hoping it would improve. Hoping beyond hope it would get better. Finally, about two-thirds of the way through, I stopped and asked myself: “Do I care what happens to these people?”

The answer was “no,” so I removed my marker and closed the book.

The fault wasn't with the characters. They were fine, if impossibly good and treacly. The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Molly McClure, is a very sensible, down-to-earth young woman who is something of a badass, in a quiet, understated way—she plays a ferocious fiddle (not violin: there is a difference, as she points out; not the instrument itself, but how you play it), and she does not sit back and let things happen to her; she takes charge and makes things happen, or tries her best to do so. She has a good, supportive, old-fashioned family who stick together and help each other. This includes Grandma and Grandpa, who live in Oregon, far away from the family's Canadian island, and who are trying to cope after Grandma's stroke. Because of her mother's unexpected risky pregnancy, Molly is sent to bring Grandma/Grandpa back to the island, to provide them a place to live and also help Molly's mother. In fact, the characters could have been lifted wholesale from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.

Unfortunately, Little House on the Prairie does not fit into this book's plot and world. That would be more like Little House in the Post Collapse, and that does not work. AT ALL.

Sorry for the shouting, but the more the author revealed about her world, the more I hated it. It is not the least bit realistic. To make a long ugly story short, about 2031 the oil started to run out, so world governments seized the last reserves (which would've meant declaring martial law, at least in the US—can you imagine Exxon and Chevron giving up their corporate assets without a fight?), and about the same time, a deadly cattle virus caused the slaughter of the world's beef herds, which led to the demise of the fast food industry (as well as much of the world's food supply—hello), mass unemployment, and the collapse of the United States economy. The government is said to still be in existence (HOW?) but can't collect taxes because no one is working and no one has any money.

I'm sorry, but this is totally, completely ridiculous. How is the author wrong? Let me count the ways:

1. OUR ENTIRE WAY OF LIFE IS BASED ON FOSSIL FUELS. Maybe in twenty-five years alternative energy will have more of a toehold, but given the ongoing fight over climate change, I doubt it. In any case, the author didn't even attempt to explore this, beyond an offhand reference to “solar panels on the barn roof,” and a solar phone/car battery that doesn't even hold a charge. In fact, in her fantastical world, the Internet still exists, planes still fly, and trains still run. I suppose for the trains, you could go back to the old steam engines, but planes have to have fuel, and the Internet has to have servers, which are operated by electricity, which is supplied by (at least at that level) oil-fired power plants. Nobody's using Tesla batteries, so where the devil is all this power coming from?

2. IN THIS SCENARIO, THERE WOULD BE MASS STARVATION AND ANARCHY. You know what else requires fuel? The trucks that bring food to the grocery stores. Those trucks that come every day because otherwise the stores would run out of food. If those trucks stopped coming, because the oil was running out, do you know what would happen? Of course you do. I don't have to tell you. Across this country—hell, across the whole world—there would be riots, looting, widespread societal collapse, and pretty much the demise of civilization. People would flee big cities, because there's no ground to grow food (and also flee cold areas, because, y'know, there's no heating oil for the winter), which would set up an instant clash with rural anarchists/survivalists. Otherwise known as “those extremists who stockpile for the end of the world,” whose most fractured Second Amendment fantasies would be coming true. Molly wouldn't be leaving her island behind, no matter how bad off Grandma and Grandpa were—her family and neighbors would be hunkering down and searching for more guns and ammunition to protect their food supply from the desperate people who would be trying to take it. (Although this book does take place ten years after the Collapse, so everyone who was going to starve would have. Which would have included Grandpa and Grandma, so there would have been no need for Molly to leave the island and thus no story.)

3. IF THE UNITED STATES ECONOMY COLLAPSES, SO DOES THE WORLD ECONOMY. Doesn't the author remember what almost happened in 2008? This was precisely what Congress was scrambling to head off, with the demise of Lehman Brothers. The world economy is as interconnected as a sticky spiderweb, and the United States is the (bloated) spider in the center of that web. Take the US economy out, and everything else goes with it. There would sure as heck be no surviving “euro,” or a European Union, for that matter.

I could go on, but you get the picture: under this scenario, you wouldn't have any kind of government or civilization; you would have a bunch of starving , fighting tribes, ill-equipped for survival. You sure wouldn't have Molly and her happy family, blithely sending this teenager off to sing “kumbaya” (or play it on her fiddle) and rescue Grandma and Grandpa. The real world resulting from this plot would be as bleak as I could imagine. Throw in a probable nuclear exchange as well, as collapsing governments battle over the few remaining oil reserves, and you pretty much have bye-bye humanity.

I can't imagine why the author didn't think of this, or why her editor didn't point it out to her. Has the author read any science texts? Or economic books? Or just Paul Krugman's blog? I'm sorry, but this book, with this plot, should never have seen the light of day. Take Molly and her family and put them in a nice sticky-sweet modern-day teen romance. That's where they belong.

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