edited by John Ringo & Gary Poole
(Baen, June 6, 2016, 304 pp, Hardcover)
Reviewed by Rick Cartwright
Black Tide Rising is an anthology of original stories set in the world created by John Ringo in his Black Tide series. Other than the first and last tales, contributed by John Ringo himself, none of the characters of the series are featured. The remaining ten stories examine the responses of ordinary people to the collapse of civilization and the disintegration of humanity.
“Never Been Kissed” by John Ringo is really flash fiction. It’s also a valentine to the fans of the series, because if you have not read the series you miss a lot of the nuance in this one. A reader who is getting their first exposure to the Black Tide Universe is able to determine: 1) Some infection has devastated the planet; 2) A lot of people are dead or infected and violent; 3) Faith Smith is a really young Marine First Lieutenant; and 4) Humanity is recovering. Ringo conveys all that in less than 800 words. That said, people who have never read the books may be left scratching their heads about references to “LRI” and” Subedeyed.” All in all, it’s a pretty good infodump contained within a poignant story.
Eric Flint‘s “Up on the Roof” tells the story of a band of neighbors who pick an unorthodox urban location to ride out a zombie apocalypse, a petroleum tank farm. The story is fascinating in that the group was not composed of hard core preppers with elaborate supplies and equipment, but rather ordinary people who use common sense and ingenuity to create a habitable refuge with materials at hand. A touch that I especially liked was that Flint crafted a cast of characters that included old people and one man in a wheelchair who survived and thrived in a very believable fashion.
“Staying Human” by Jody Lynn Nye is set at a small research enclave where the main character seeks vengeance against the zombie that slew her husband and child while they were hunting the infected, whose spinal columns are vital to the creation of a vaccine to protect against the infected. It is this struggle by scientists to reconcile the killing and harvesting of the infected to create the vaccine to save everyone else that creates the moral dilemma. While the twist in the story is somewhat predictable, Ms. Nye delivers the ending in a very…human manner, letting her character set her ghosts to rest while still completing the mission set before her.
“On the Wall” by John Scalzi & Dave Klecha is by far the weakest entry in the collection, which is surprising as Mr. Scalzi has made his career writing in other people’s universes. The story is a humorous dialogue between two individuals on guard and fending off an attack. The story was so bland that frankly the writers could search and replace “zombies” and “infected” with “cold ones,” “Nazis,” “Indians,” “bugs,” or “aliens” and it would still read the same.
Sarah A. Hoyt describes the conflict of a hospital ER staff realizing that they have no cure for the infected and a serious lack of effective weapons to fight their way to safety in “Do No Harm.” The protagonist is a medical scribe who is faced with having to kill infected patients to save herself and other uninfected. Ms. Hoyt examines the decisions that even medical professionals have to make in order to survive. In the end, she decides that you do what you have to in order to save those who remain.
“Not in Vain” by Kacey Ezell was one of the best and most heartbreaking stories of the book. Ezell recounts the response of a group of cheerleaders returning from a competition and facing the reality that they are likely compromised with the virus because of being around so many other people in a larger urban area. In fact, the story was the basis for the anthology’s cover. Ms. Ezell takes a group that normally is a literary trope for “dumb, shallow, and useless” and makes them the heroes fighting to survive and beat the infection that they are carrying. The team adapts and overcomes several obstacles including the turning of team members. The author does an excellent job conveying the gut-wrenching emotions of young people witnessing not only the deaths of friends but of their society crashing around them.
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Grandpa?” by Michael Z. Williamson might be the funniest story here; it is certainly a middle finger salute to those who deride the prepper mindset. The story actually starts some time prior to the fall of humanity, and opens with the well-meaning concern of family members for the oldster of the family who has these peculiar ideas about stockpiling guns and supplies. Not to put too fine a point on it, Grandpa is apparently bullied by his family to sell off his guns and such and invest the money earned. Months pass and the son learns that money is less helpful as a Mosin-Nagant and a lot of ammo in a zombie apocalypse. The tables turn and the son turns out to be the one who needs the help of the old, crazy man who the reader learns still has enough tricks up his sleeve to save himself and his woefully unprepared family.
“Battle of the BERTs” by Mike Massa is a dark story set in New York City, and somewhat parallels the action in the first part of the first John Ringo Black Tide novel, Beneath a Graveyard Sky. Biological Emergency Response Teams were groups who sought to take infected New Yorkers off the streets. Infected could be harvested for spinal cord material used to make vaccine. Massa tells a tale of how the groups become increasingly competitive and aggressive in collecting the infected amidst the breakdown of order, all while trying to maintain the facade that everything is not coming apart.
Tedd Roberts chronicles the transition of a man from normalcy to…something else in “The Road to Good Intentions.” Some might say he finds madness; some might say he “finds religion” or something in between. The setting is an isolated community in the Blue Ridge mountains where the main character, Len, is one of the very rare survivors of a zombie attack—by his wife, who is killed by Len’s neighbor. Len is nursed back to health by a fire and brimstone preacher who is introduced as a trope character but who Roberts shows us has compassion and caring, causing Len to change his views. Over time the community struggles to survive and learns that some of the worst dangers are not the infected, but their fellow uninfected. It’s an excellent, if harrowing, tale.
“200 Miles to Huntsville” by Christopher Smith recounts what occurs when the zombie apocalypse happens during a prisoner transport to the state prison in Huntsville, Texas. The party has not only to fight zombies but crazed religious fanatics who apparently didn’t need a pandemic to go insane. The story has a lot of action and the hero is not quite who you expect.
“Best Laid Plans” by Jason Cordova & Eric S. Brown is a darkly humorous tale set in Paris about an international gang of jewel thieves who find that robbing the Louvre during a zombie apocalypse creates an interesting set of challenges not covered in the planning sessions. The robbers are elated to get away with billions of dollars worth of loot and are looking forward to going to the Bahamas. The story stands alone, but for readers of the series there are several in jokes that had this reviewer chucking throughout.
“The Meaning of Freedom” by John Ringo closes the anthology (although Mr. Ringo’s Afterword is worth reading). Like “Never Been Kissed,” the story can stand alone but has a bigger impact if you have read the series and know the characters’ backstories. This one addresses the question of what do you do if over 2 million zombies are cured, but are reduced to an IQ of 60 and essentially have no free will. In the Black Tide Universe this is roughly equal to the number of sentient survivors. Complicating this is how do scattered groups of survivors rebuild a world where 99% of the population is gone? While this story lacks the action of the stories that have gone before, it is an excellent read in that it makes the reader look past the immediate “We will go on” to “How will you go on? What has to change?”
For fans of the Black Tide Rising series this anthology is a must buy. For those who have never read the Ringo series, Black Tide Rising is an antidote to the bleak, pessimistic, apocalyptic stories that are all too common. Like the series itself, the various authors show us that no matter what, it’s possible to survive and even thrive. While there may be no good choices at times, and individuals may perish, humans will go on. Even in a zombie apocalypse. Highly recommended.