I recently had a week off and, rather than travel, I decided to stay close to home and catch up on chores and rest.

Chores included things like pruning the blueberry bushes (unlike other fruit trees, you prune them after picking in the summer), killing weeds in the driveway, tending the garden, clearing a hiking trail and so on.

As for resting, I had two good motivators: the hot weather, and the arrival of Scott B. Williams’ newest book and first novel, “The Pulse: A Novel of Surviving the Collapse of the Grid” (Ulysses Press).

My plan was to get outside, work until I got tired, then chill out reading and napping.

The plot of “The Pulse” is this: Some sort of solar “pulse” wipes out not only all electrical systems on earth but everything electronic. There’s no power, water, computers, phones — even most vehicles won’t work. And since there are no communications, people can only guess at what’s going on.

When the pulse strikes, Casey is a college student in New Orleans, while her dad Artie, an eye doctor, is helping his brother Larry deliver a sailboat to a Caribbean island.

Casey and her friends Jessica and Grant decide to head for Grant’s family camp on the Bogue Chitto River. They start out traveling by bicycle since their cars won’t run.

Artie, desperate to check on his daughter, and Larry set sail to New Orleans on Larry’s catamaran with an island friend named Scully.

Part of what makes the book so readable is Scott’s intimate knowledge of all of these subjects.  

Scott paddled a sea kayak from Florida to the Virgin Islands, which resulted in the book “On Island Time.” He has built sailboats, sailed from Florida to New Orleans as well as in the Caribbean, and written a guidebook to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

He and I have paddled extensively on the Bogue Chitto River, including a trip from Pike County to the coast via the Honey Island Swamp.

He’s a bicyclist who pedaled so many miles in Mississippi that he considered writing a guidebook. He’s a gun enthusiast, motorcyclist, backpacker, hunter and martial artist.

All of those skills factor into his study of “post-grid” survival, about which he has written two nonfiction books.

As a result, “The Pulse” pulses with accuracy and detail.

For example, when Jessica’s bicycle breaks down, Grant doesn’t simply repair it. Instead he uses “a chain-breaker tool that allowed him to remove enough links from the chain to shorten it so that the rear derailleur could be bypassed altogether. After doing this, he then took the broken derailleur completely off and placed the chain on the middle cog of the eight-speed gear cluster.”

When Larry charts a course across the Caribbean, he doesn’t just plan to sail among a bunch of generic islands.

“We’re going to shoot straight up the Old Bahama Channel, just north of Cuba. That will keep us from having to thread our way around all the reefs and islands in the Bahamas, other than the Cal Say Bank. There is a place on the bank I want to stop at though. The spear-fishing there is some of the best in the world.”

When the sailboat comes to a drawbridge at the mouth of the Pearl River, Larry doesn’t simply take down the mast.

“The way Larry had the rig set up, with synthetic Dyneema shrouds and stays tensioned by simple dead-eyes, rather than turnbuckles, and the mast stepped in a tabernacle with a pivot, lowering the entire affair was a relatively quick and simple task. To bring it down in control, he connected a four-part tackle to the forestay, with the tail led back to the central cockpit winch.”

When Artie runs across a cache of weapons at a survivalist’s hideout, he doesn’t merely find boxes of bullets.

Rather, “upon opening the military surplus ammo cans he found that two of them were still packed with individual boxes of ammunition in three different calibers: .22 Long Rifle., 357 Magnum, and 7.62 x 39 steel-jacketed Czechoslovakian military surplus.”

Such vivid descriptions almost render a plot superfluous. But there is plot aplenty as the characters run into one dangerous situation after another.

Well, I got my chores done, but I may not have gotten quite as much rest as I should have. After all, how do you nap when you can’t quit reading?

(1) comment

Anonymous Comment

This book was given to me as a gift. It was plausible while drawing me to continue reading. However, I do not feel that the comment about the details on the guns and ammo represent the book at all. The Pulse has a minor amount of gun references and detailed specifics are rare. There are only a few items that are mentioned by brand name or other specification.
Williams does give me reason to be more concerned about disasters. The tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and droughts in the last few years should have awakened me more. The Pulse is a recommended read to a wide general audience.


-Alan

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