Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Herald - Michael Shaara

”He did not feel it for a long moment. It was very quiet in the car and very gray in the sky and the road was black and calm and empty, and there was a quiet sound from the engine and the patient thump of the wipers, and then he saw a black bird come out of the sky on the left and cross over him, flying to the right in the light rain, disappearing behind the trees. It was the first motion. And then he felt the current.”

Nick Tesla is flying to Jefferson, Georgia in his small plane. When he can't reach anyone at the airport he is concerned. When he lands and can't find any people he gets worried. When he starts to find dead bodies he gets scared.

I have this morbid fascination with apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels. I think it's watching how people pick up the pieces that fascinate me, the choices they make, for the good or the bad and choices are extremely important in this book.

I was interested in this book purely on the merit of one of Shaara’s other books, ”The Killer Angels” about the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. This book proves how versatile a writer he is, moving from historical to apocalyptic fiction. If you love books about the US Civil War or even if you know nothing about it, I would highly recommend this book. Look for my review on this book soon.

Shaara slowly builds the tension because we only get the story in pieces; we learn as the characters learn what’s going on. I had so many theories apart from what I had read on the dust jacket. And the way he writes to create an atmosphere of cold terror is exquisite.

”At that moment Ring saw a man break from the side of the radio truck and come running back down through the field, running away. But no one else ran. They all stood there like dark wet statues, in dead silence, looking toward the Wall, and for a long moment Ring had no idea, then it began to come, and he broke forward toward the gate. Faces turned toward him. Black faces: a nightmare of wet man with death in their eyes. He felt his skin prickle.”

I did not like the tongue-in-cheek joke about our protagonist’s name. Nikola Tesla was an amazing man with a brilliant but damaged mind. His scientific genius doesn’t translate to Nick’s character. If Nick had been a closet engineer or did science experiments in his basement I would have seen the connection. As it was, I saw no connection and felt the character was sloppily named.

As well, the scope of the book expanded exponentially when Rome and several other cities were brought into the plot. This felt unimportant. Our main focus is not the team trying to stop the “circle of death” from expanding. If it had been, these other cities would hold more importance on an apocalyptic remaking-the-world scale. But our focus is Nick, a man concerned more with Jefferson than Rome and who wouldn’t be? He has problems surrounding him with Ruth and Sheperd, wild animals, the machine that keeps the circle expanding, other survivors, etc. I think it would have been more effective to focus just on Jefferson.

I don’t know that I agree with the title either. ”The Herald” refers to Sheperd but the story is really about Nick and his experiences, his choice. We follow him through the book. Sheperd is a mysterious scientist until near the end of the book. The title fits in the sense that Sheperd’s machine will usher in a new era but I still feel that Nick’s journey is far more interesting. He’s an ordinary man who has to make an extraordinary choice.

I liked this book. The beginning had a Stephen King feel and while the ending was wrapped up perhaps too quickly, it was a good read.

Rating: 3.5/5

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