Book - Chickens
The Great NZ UK Anywhere novel
Like many writers I have a magnum opus project. This one began life just over twenty years ago. One day, I think, I'm sure, I want to hope, it will find love. And a publisher.
Herewith is a brief synopsis of a 74,000 word manuscript entitled Chickens.
This Young Adults/humorous mainstream/popular novel, set in a fictional, magical, and pre-technological world (comparable with mediaeval Britain and Europe) is the story of a burglar on the run who takes a position as odd-job man at a druidic monastery in order to escape the law.
This is the first episode of a saga running to six titles. The first sequel, entitled Geese, is intended to be around 100,000 words in length, and is, currently, approximately half complete.
Book Project - Into The Darkness
Into The Darkness
Into the Darkness as summarised below is a story outline. The series of novels that flow from it will follow the lives of two families who know each other before the Great Blackout, but lose touch as a result of it; their paths will cross again as two young adults, a boy and a girl, one raised in a pocket of the surviving technological Old World, and one in the harsh new reality of tribal subsistence agriculture, meet by accident, fall in love, and discover their shared heritage.
Into the Darkness
The power is out. No-one is precisely certain why or how, because of how quickly everything happened; there were rumours, of course, but nothing could be confirmed or discounted. Maybe a solar storm has knocked the grid out, maybe something else has irrevocably damaged it. An EMP from someone's careless use of a stray nuke, perhaps. The point is that there’s no mains electricity, anywhere, and we presume it isn't coming back on in the foreseeable future.
Life in the world's cities, great and lesser, very rapidly becomes very different and a whole lot less pleasant. Not only is there no power, but there's no communications; the phone and cellphone networks are down as well, partly because there's no power to run them, partly because their electronics have been fried by whatever knocked out the grid.
There's no radio or TV, there's no internet, no power to run computers anyway, or to charge cellphones or anything else. While there are batteries still to be had, some people may be able to use portable radios, and some stations may still be broadcasting on generator power; but the electronic fog left behind by the solar flare, or nuclear EMP, or alien invasion, or whatever it was, means that reception is weak, and patchy at best.
There's no water or sewerage either, because the treatment plants can't run without power, and neither can the pumps. Most of these facilities have backup generators, but remote starting systems that depend on radio or other wireless signals to activate them have been toasted. Many are down in basements and cellars, there are no elevators or lights, electronic door locks are frozen shut, and not everybody who knows how to start them manually is able to get to work.
By the end of Day One, frozen food in the supermarkets is starting to go off; and there has already been looting, because without functioning EFTPOS card terminals (no power or communications) people can't pay for anything anyway.
By Day Two, many people are fleeing the cities; but this is no easy feat, because many of them don't have cars anymore – their computerised engine management systems are toast, just like almost all other electronics, and the likes of keyless entry devices likewise don’t work either. The trains aren't running, because there's no power, and even the diesel electrics are laid up because the signals aren't working and half the staff can't get to work anyway.
Those who do have fuel in their tanks are better off than those who don't, because there's no power to run the pumps at the gas stations; and out on the roads the traffic lights aren't working. Neither is the GPS, because half the satellites got toasted by the surge, and the electronic fog means the rest can't provide a strong enough signal.
By Day Three, fires have broken out; but with no-one to put them out, they rage for days and take out entire city blocks. There's no mains water, no phones, the Fire Brigade radios aren't working properly, and the roads are gridlocked by accidents and fuel-less vehicles.
Some hospitals are still running on generator power, but again, they are short staffed and the ambulances can't operate properly. On top of that, they only have supplies on hand to rely on; the entire supply chain has shut down because of the power, phones, roads, and internet not working. When the drugs and food supplies are gone, that's it. Also, they have the same sewerage issues as everyone else.
Day Four and hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in burning cities, dehydrated and starving amongst piles of their own filth. Looting and violence is rampant across entire continents.
Some people have made it to the countryside; but beyond the first wave, small rural communities are unable to absorb the sheer numbers, and as more refugees stream out from their dying Metropolii, country people resort to shooting at them in self-preservation.
Starving people are stealing and killing farm animals for food, and spoiling and wasting most of it because they have no real idea of how to butcher meat, and they're cooking in stone age conditions over open fires. Living conditions outside the cities are scarcely better than within them. Rivers and streams become running sewers as well as drinking water sources. Disease is rife.
Day Five and millions are succumbing to starvation, dehydration, food poisoning, violence, fire, gastroenteritis, and other ills. Medications are running out and there is no functioning health system. Some well-meaning individuals have broken into city zoos and released the animals to prevent them from starving in their cages.
The dead lie unburied, the sick are uncared for, the newborn and their mothers are without the help and hygiene that was standard less than a week ago.
By Day Six total anarchy has enveloped the entire developed world. The military are the only institution still functioning, but even they have limited food and fuel, and their communications and transport are hamstrung same as everyone else's. Martial law is imposed and enforced brutally.
There is no air traffic movement, and ships stay tied up in port; there is no trade or communications, no functioning navigation aids, no power to pump fuel.
Less than a week after the power goes out, human civilisation has devolved back to the Stone Age. Gangs and groups battle each other with whatever weapons come to hand, the desperate struggle for food and water is punctuated by rape, robbery, and murder. People are killed for a bottle of mineral water or a can of beans.
The cities are now impassable burning hell-holes filled with disease and the stench of decomposition. There is no law or order and the military is completely preoccupied just looking after itself. The countryside is swamped with groupings of people living rough in shelters made from whatever materials come to hand, improvised sewerage, contaminated water, desperately uncertain food supplies, little to no medical care. A new Tribalism is developing rapidly and out of necessity. Its hierarchy is determined by brutality and the reality of the human condition.
Millions of people, for whom the essentials of life have always been provided by a self-sustaining infrastructure, are now effectively living in the wild, with no knowledge of how to recreate those essentials in the way that their forebears did.
And winter is coming.
Into The Darkness
A year on from the power going out, and the great numerical majority of the western world’s population has died, from disease, starvation, and violence.
The cities are places no-one goes, apart from on essential foraging missions, and only then in large, well-armed groups. The bodies and the rotted foodstuffs don’t smell anymore, but there is still disease, and groups of feral people still live amongst the detritus of civilisation. Out of towners who venture in, in search of tools, hardware, and anything else useable, must be on their guard.
Zoo animals have made their homes as much in the ruins of the conurbations as they have in the surrounding countryside. Big cats are as much of a danger as are packs of roaming dogs.
Out in the hinterland, the new Tribes have established communities based around farming and essential collectivism. There are babies and sick people to be cared for, and precious little resource with which to achieve this. Food is short and tightly rationed. The canned goods salvaged from the wreck of the old society are all but gone. What is consumed must be grown or reared, all of it by hand and by horse; there is little fuel, and precious little ability to maintain machinery. Subsistence is hard, and life is both precious and cheap.
There is some trade, accompanied by the constant risk of conflict, with neighbouring tribes. There is no international trade, because everybody else’s situation is at least as dire, and some survivors even worse off. Across Europe, Asia, and North and South America, international borders are gone, along with the ability of any conglomeration of people to preserve the concept of nationhood. Groups and regions survive inasfar as they are able to delineate and defend their territory and borders. Warlords reign over much of what survives of humanity. In some places, pockets of Government or military authority still exist, but their influence and reach is severely limited. There is nothing which could be described as cohesive society.
Island nations fare a little better, for they at least have a natural border which preserves uniformity of language and pre-existing values; for now, at least.
Fishing carries on, in rowboats and sailboats, through the combined efforts of those who know how to fish and those who know how to sail. It is a risky business, limited to small catches from small boats and fairly close to the shore. There is no communication with the land, no search and rescue, and no refrigeration. The catch must be made fresh every day the weather permits, or smoked or salted.
On the tribal farms, people are learning how to smoke, dry, and salt meat, to preserve it; to shear sheep by hand, to scour wool and make yarn, to create clothing the echo of what their ancestors wore, five centuries previously. Grain is planted, harvested, and ground by hand. When the weather is bad, the harvest is down, and people go hungry. There is no imported food.
Two years on and the last of the fuel is gone. No-one is pumping oil or refining it, there are no ships or tankers, no way of communicating with people in the parts of the world where the oil used to come from anyway. Some communities are digging coal. One or two old steam trains have been rescued from transport museums, and are operating on sections of tracks between a small number of communities.
The ammunition and the canned food is all gone as well. Some clever folks have managed to create black powder weapons, and there are pneumatic airguns, but most of mankind’s most devilish weaponry is now useless. The blade and the spear are resurgent and most common. People are learning how to use hunting bows, and to make arrows. When the last of the surviving fibreglass and composite bows have finally broken or worn out, they will have to learn how to make wooden ones.
One or two communities have managed to build windmills or water wheels, but the power stations of old all lie silent. There is no coal or oil to fuel thermal plants, while the hydro dams are jammed up with driftwood; and there are darker clouds on the horizon. Around the world, at least two dozen nuclear reactors are on fire. When civilisation collapsed, there was no-one to maintain the cooling systems, and not every automatic shutdown happened as it was supposed to. In addition, some have been damaged by earthquakes.
Humanity continues to shrink. People are finding ways to survive, but more people continue to die than are being born, and mortality rates are high. Life expectancy is down to around 50.
Travel is difficult and dangerous, and only undertaken for essential purposes of trade, medical emergency, or war. Tribes keep their own roads open in their immediate locality, but across the nations, major roads are in decay. Fallen trees must be cut by hand, and physically dragged off the carriageways, to allow the ‘carts’ and horses to pass – motor vehicles, once powered by fossil fuels or batteries, are instead hitched to beasts of burden. Bandits and rival tribes lurk near roadways. Windblown dirt and dust have accumulated on tarmac roads, and plants are taking root. In a generation, the old road network will be gone. Bridges destroyed by floods or earthquakes simply stay destroyed; there is no cohesive organisation or society to rebuild them. Journeys of even hundreds of miles, which only two years ago could be made without difficulty by one person in less than a day, now take weeks, large parties, and much planning and preparation. There is no communication with home, and no rescue if anything goes wrong.
Farming is hard as well. Not only is there no machinery, but there is no irrigation either; nor fertiliser nor herbicide nor pesticide nor fungicide. The old adage has come full circle, and the survivors must grow four times as much crop to provide for their food needs as was the case before the collapse; “One for the weevil and one for the crow, one for the mildew and one to grow,” was the old axiom under which our ancestors grew their food.
By year three, some clever folks have managed to dig and smelt iron; but those with the requisite knowledge are few, and not many books survived the fires of the city libraries of old. There is, of course, no way to retrieve the sum of man’s knowledge from the servers and computerised records on which civilisation had come to depend.
It is now 2015, and the global cooling brought about by the solar minimum is about to reduce crop yields even further. With little in the way of firewood remaining, many of the survivors are going to either freeze or starve.
And those nuclear power stations are still on fire.
Into The Darkness
It is 2045. A generation has passed since the power went off. The first children of the new age are in their early thirties, and have teenagers of their own.
Earth is in the middle of a mini ice age brought on by the solar minimum; temperatures will remain low until nearly the end of the century. Both life and agriculture are hard, but sustainable, for the small populations who survive in largely self-reliant communities.
People have learned how to cure leather using tannin from animal brains. Individuals and communities are beginning to specialise in the production of certain goods, dependent for the most part on what resources they have access to, and what skills their original members brought with them from the old world.
Metal working and engineering are reasonably commonplace, but there is a warning for the future; the raw materials are almost all sourced from the recycling of plant, equipment, and machinery which existed from before – ships, vehicles, earthmoving machinery, aircraft, almost everything which is no longer of use. In generations to come, this resource will eventually be exhausted, and the great-grand children of tomorrow will have to learn to identify ores, to dig and quarry, to smelt and refine; and the knowledge required to achieve this exists in the heads of a small and ever-dwindling number of old timers, and a scant few surviving books salvaged from libraries and learning institutions which escaped the flames. Judgement day is not upon these people just yet, but it is coming; and this is but one more indication that civilisation is continuing to devolve.
People who remember the world before, make efforts to recreate it as closely as they can, using whatever they can salvage from its ruins. This is understandable, but will prove man’s undoing, as each generation knows less and less about what is required to start again from the beginning, and at the same time moves closer to that beginning, as the treasures of the past are used up.
Around the world, there are pockets of humanity who have retained the technologies from before. They survive in and around military bases and enclosed communities which had a reasonable level of preparedness. They have access not only to fuel and ammunition supplies, but to oil, operable refining, stocks of industrial chemicals, and stores of medicines and dehydrated food.
They have generators, wind, solar, and micro-hydro, and they have functioning computers which store information, and radio communications equipment, shortwave sets that do not depend on satellites or servers. Many are in contact with one another. Most importantly, they have retained knowledge. They are able to manufacture antibiotics and painkillers, and to pass on knowledge and learning to their children. They have access to medicine and even surgery which is completely beyond the reach of those on the outside.
They keep themselves deliberately separate from the agrarian tribes. They have little to gain from trade, and a great deal to lose. Some of them have functioning aircraft, and they are able to travel long distances and to other places where high technology survives. A separate and parallel system of communication and cooperation between these communities develops, as it is doing with the agrarians.
In generations to come, as these pockets continue to flourish and advance, and as the agrarian tribes continue to devolve, they will come to be known by the tribes as special and advanced, regarded as Gods in a way. Their ‘fire-breathing’ aircraft will become the dragons of a new folklore.
The roads, railways, bridges, power lines, and other infrastructures of the old days are all but gone. Windblown dirt and dust have enveloped them, plants and vegetation have covered them, and wind, rain, fire, rust, and seismic activity is pulling them down and burying them. Already they are of no use at all, and scarcely recognisable; in another generation or two, most evidence of their existence will be gone.
The old cities are likewise crumbling. Fire, wind, rain, snow, the actions of animals and the march of vegetation; these forces combine and conspire to erode and smother the lofty spires and sprawling suburbs of man’s former home. They are dark places anyway, avoided by the tribes and communities; all that was of value has long since been recovered, and now they are places of danger, and of fear instilled in each new generation of babies.
Some societies have evolved a collective form of consensus if not democracy, while others have become authoritarian. Some have better relations with neighbouring tribes, some worse; there are alliances and wars. Conflict is an integral part of everyday life. Fiefdoms have developed; these will become new Kingdoms in the near future. As knowledge and learning diminish with the passing of each generation and rise of each subsequent one, religion will be recreated, and with it will come the reinforcement of stupidity, brutality, and ignorance.
Some people have travelled by sailing boat to far away places. Not all have returned, but those who have, report that life is much of a muchness the world over. In what was the Third World, very little has changed. People no longer see the contrails in the sky any more, and the ships don’t come to the ports. The white man hasn’t been seen for a long time, and his guns and money and alcohol and the other good things aren’t to be had. But life goes on as it has for millennia. Eventually people learn that the world of the white man has crumbled and been destroyed; they carry on without him. There isn’t petrol any more, and cooking oil is hard to find, but they made bullets in the past, and they remember how that was done. The Third World does not mourn the passing of the First; eventually they will forget that it ever existed. They carry on as they have done, herding their goats, traveling by camel caravan, eking an existence from the deserts and the forests and the other wastelands that “modern” man would never have survived in anyway.
The nuclear fires have now gone out, and although the areas around the stricken plants is without life, the repercussions have not proven as globally catastrophic as some doomsayers may once have predicted. Indeed some of the high-tech communities still have access to, and working knowledge of, functioning nuclear reactors. Some of them are even able to refuel power plants and naval vessels.
As one small group of humanity continues to progress to the stars, the great mass continues on inexorably towards the caves.
Into The Darkness