Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review of The Last Pilgrims

The Last Pilgrims by Michael Bunker

The Last Pilgrims is set twenty years after a post-world collapse. In this story, the fractured US has returned to a “the medieval system of monarchy and aristocracy”. The author’s explanation for the medieval culture is:
“The obsession with castles, keeps, and siege walls, and basically all things medieval, was a natural result of necessity, combined with the mentality born of a return to monarchy.”
I’m not sure this situation would actually occur; but it does combine my love of the medieval era and my love of post-apocalyptic fiction. I found both aspects of the story very enjoyable.

The prologue reads like a history book; I personally think a shorter prologue would have worked much better. After the Prologue, the book blossoms and the characters come alive. Each chapter is named after a character and gives insight into the character, along with advancing the current timeline or exploring how this character survived the collapse.

This two timeline feature, a little bit like the Lost “flashbacks” allows the reader to learn about the collapse and follow the main story. Too many post-apocalyptic stories, don’t explore why the apocalypse occurred or how the characters survived. The Last Pilgrims makes sure that each facet of the story, past and present, are explored.

There are a couple of references to contemporary post-apocalyptic novels and how the authors got it wrong:
“In almost all of the post-apocalyptic literature, he said, it was usually predicted that over-hunting would have wiped out all of the game after a collapse. He explained that, because most writers had a bias towards industrialism and the status-quo (he called it a Normalcy Bias, or the Ceteris Parabus fallacy), they automatically assumed that almost everyone was going to survive any collapse.”
“In the books, the gangs of low-life misfits were always pictured as inbred mutant-zombie-biker trash; clownish representations of the lowest dregs of white-trash society; prison escapees and assorted trailer dwellers that enjoyed raping anything that moved and kicking puppies for fun.

Gareth had to smile at the irony of how things had really turned out. For the most part, in the last 20 years, the looter gangs of pillaging gypsies had been made up of former middle-class suburbanites.”
The leader of the Valenses, Jonathon, chose a remote location in Texas, far from the pre-collapse cities. The remoteness protected them from the looter gangs and the lower population left them with plentiful game. The small group of Valenses met their daily needs by hunting and farming. They continued to add recruits who had specialized skills – like Ana who tanned the hides of the game animals.

The Valenses continued to grow and prosper. They also had their own religion and were ruled by the elders, not a King. The surrounding Kingdoms, which grew by conquest, repeatedly target the Valenses. This conflict between the Kingdoms and the Valenses is the central plot of the story.

The Vallensian people are pacifists and because they are so vulnerable, the local militia has sworn to protect them. The militia fighters are the most knight-like of the fighters. Timothy refers to himself as:
“. . . raised in the militia. He didn’t even remember having a family, nor could he know what that meant outside the family he had among his brethren. His duty and honor were the only two things of consequence that he owned.”
Compare this to how the Chancellor describes the Kingdom’s army:
“. . . let me speak bluntly. The armies of Aztlan are weak and cowardly. We prevail and rule by means of numbers and not ability, bravery, or superior training. We all honor the King and respect him as is his due. To me, he is a god. But… his advisors are buffoons, and his generals fight for money and not loyalty. If this army were half its size, I would not dare fight even a hundred loyal militia troops. That, sir, is the sad but honest truth. We need brave and loyal men, and we breed cowards and cutthroats.”
The battle strategies used by the militia are interesting, and the readers will enjoy the neighboring Kingdom “flying” to the rescue.

Mr. Bunker has many enjoyable references, some about the past and some very useful survival information. I enjoyed this reference to the technology of the past:
“The fun part was when the older people would talk about technology. What magic! She had seen some of the devices, although they were all powerless now. ‘Phones’ no bigger than a stone, which were used to talk to people anywhere at any time without any delay. There were also computers, all linked together to share information across a huge ‘web’ called the ‘Internet’. As a result, you could find out anything in the world just by typing questions on your computer.”
This reference to a natural antibiotic, made me curious enough to check it out on-line:
“The most effective cure, though, to his delight, was copious amounts of beer brewed according to the most ancient traditions. Wally informed him that beer, when brewed naturally—according to the recipes used by the ancient Nubians, Hebrews, and Egyptians—created tetracycline in the human body—a powerful broad-spectrum antibiotic.”
I also loved learning how the Valenses stored the food that needed to be kept cool. They had a combination spring house and ice house which is too complex to explain in one paragraph. I recommend getting a copy of the book and reading it to fully understand their natural cooling system.

The best part of this book is how alive the characters are and how you want to know what happens to them. Often I found myself not liking a new character and then a few chapters later I would totally reverse my opinion.

Our main heroes Phillip, Jonathon, Timothy and Gareth are very three dimensional. They all have strengths and weaknesses; and a few were so stubborn I wanted to throttle them. Our heroines Ruth and Ana, come across as very strong and powerful and I think they are the heart of the story.

This book is part of a series, so not all storylines are wrapped up. I find myself wondering what the author has in store for Timothy and Ruth, Prince Gareth, Phillip, Ana and Jonathon.

I can’t wait to find out!

For more information go to: The Last Pilgrims

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June Update from Blackjack

Oliver here reporting from Blackjack Fairgrounds with the current news and interesting info that comes my way.

Change is a comin' - hearing lots of rumors from both sides of the Blue Line.


Today at Blackjack

Food Court Special:
Buffalo burgers

Green Items in Stock for Trading: Salt, antibiotics and home grown veggies

Red Zones (death toll from the initial 23 zones): 30,357,184

Yellow Zones (death toll in the secondary zones): 119,982,101

Red zone travel is still restricted
Yellow zone travel is at your own risk
Safe passage available to Cheyenne, blue line crossing and ASA Refugee centers in New Mexico and Oklahoma. Inquire for available guides at the travel tent.

Blackjack Rules:
No guns
Thieves will be strung up
Buyer Beware


J & R is recruiting for aid missions for the states east of the blue line. Inquire at your local J & R office.

Pool boys - please keep your heads down and stay safe. Your families await your return.

Wanted: Guide trainees-No experience necessary, prefer volunteers without any family and must be able to shoot straight. Inquire at the travel tent.


If you see these two terrorists, please report to your nearest J & R office.


Lots of rumors about J & R's humanitarian efforts. Is J & R really gathering resources to send aid or take over?

Rumors of unrest at Loomer Ridge and there have been several unsubstantiated rumors about riots.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Welcome to Blackjack

Just got up on the grid and am now bringing you useful information, news and rumors from Blackjack Fairground.

I'm originally from Jericho. Go by the name of Oliver, some refer to me as Old Man Oliver. Left Jericho, when Gray Anderson, was elected mayor. I didn't always get along with Johnston Green, but at least he could stand up to the ASA!

I got out of Jericho and ended up at Blackjack. Got an old computer running and am now reaching out to folks around Blackjack. Will send out the news when I got something to report.

Today at Blackjack

Food Court Special: rabbit stew - very tasty.

Green Items In Stock for Trading: Salt, Iodine, Sulfur

Save Passage Trips for Sale To:
Nearest Blue Line Checkpoint
ASA New Mexico Refugee Center


No Guns
Thieves will be strung up
Buyer Beware


Shep - please come home to Jericho. Your family needs you.

Big strong men needed at Gracie's Market in Jericho. Ask for Dale.

When Freedom is threatened where will you be?
The ASA Needs You
Enlist Today at your local J & R Office.


Johnston Green was sighted at the Blue Line Checkpoint. Rumor has it that Johnston was killed at the Richmond Farm during the Jericho vs. New Bern war. Anyone having information about Johnston Green come talk to Oliver at Blackjack Fairground.

Monday, May 31, 2010

June Edition - Review of Jeremiah

Blackjack Fairgrounds is going to be doing a series of reviews of other post-apocalyptic stories. Our first one is the TV series Jeremiah.

Jeremiah ran from 2002-2004 on Showtime. It starred Luke Perry and Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Jeremiah and Kurdy, a Jake and Hawkins type of team. It was created by J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and based on a Belgian comic series by Hermann Huppen.

Jeremiah is set 15 years after the big death, where a virus killed most of the world's post-puberty population. Jeremiah is the story of the children that survived. The first season was a "Wagon Train to the Apocalypse" type of story format - Jeremiah and Kurdy visited a new town every week. Jeremiah and Kurdy worked as a team for the Thunder Mountain group. There was a series arc of what happened to Jeremiah's parents and what was the mysterious Vahalla Sector.

In the second season, the stories were more like Jericho, since most of the action took place in two base locations (Thunder Mountain and Millhaven). Millhaven was the staging base that Jeremiah ran. The series arc quickly took center stage and the Thunder Mountain group and the series ASA equivalent (Daniel's group) clashed.

Since both Jeremiah and Jericho are post-apocalyptic there are similar elements. There is Morse Code used in a couple of episodes of Jeremiah. There is also a Mushroom Cloud in one episode. Jeremiah even has a mysterious Mr. Smith.

Jeremiah and Kurdy are very similar to Jake and Hawkins, with Kurdy being more street smart and Jeremiah often getting in trouble and needing to be rescued.

The ending of the series is emotionally fulfilling, but I wish that the series had been continued. I felt they rushed the series arc to finish by the end of the second season. I also think there was a lot more story potential left.

There is one scene so reminiscent of Jericho that it brought tears to my eyes. Right before the finale, they reintroduced the American flag and you see it superimposed over the Thunder Mountain stronghold.

The second season of Jeremiah has been released as an Amazon exclusive DVD, so now the whole series is available for those who missed it.

Jeremiah Comic:

Jeremiah Series:

Friday, April 23, 2010

April Edition of Blackjack Fairgrounds

We hope that you enjoy your time at Blackjack Fairgrounds. Remember the rules: no guns, thieves will be strung up, buyer beware, and be sure to leave before nightfall!

Issue 3 of Jericho Season 3 - Civil War

Jake and Hawkins are on the road as Wanted Men. Forced to enter into enemy territory, they must use the help of the Jericho Resistance to make their way through an Allied States processing town on the Texas Border. Disguised as refugees, our heroes must maneuver past hi-tech cameras, armed ASA soldiers and local black market thugs to continue their mission to find terrorist John Smith.

Order Link

Cover A & B
$3.99 each

Axiom's Edge Review
Video Review by Medabotsoundwave
Comic Attack's Review
Michael Sautter's Review


What will John Smith tell us?
How will they get OUT of Loomer Ridge?
Will Uncle Emmett stay in Jericho?
When will issue four come out?

Friday, March 12, 2010

March Edition of Blackjack Fairgrounds

We hope that you enjoy your time at Blackjack Fairgrounds. Remember the rules: no guns, thieves will be strung up, buyer beware, and be sure to leave before nightfall!

Today's edition will be a review of the post-apocalyptic version of Richard III performed at the City College of San Francisco. The director, John Wilk, stated that this is one of Shakespeare's most compelling plays. It deals with the politics of greed which destroys the fabric of a society and this parallels the corporate greed that has helped weaken our education system.

The set was what you would think of as post-apocalyptic - the shell of a destroyed building. They had jagged plastic hanging from the window frame that looked like broken glass and they used that as a backdrop for a film projection. They showed a black and white film of clouds passing by, so you got the feeling that outside the building nothing was alive.

The costumes were modern grunge with a little bit of Hollywood Pirate thrown in.

With such a radical change in scenery and costuming, I was hoping this would be an adaptation of Hamlet III. Unfortunately it was not, it was the Shakespeare play performed with the original verse and prose. I've always found it jarring to hear Shakespeare's plays out of context and this play was no exception.

The actor who played Richard III, DeWayne Spalding, was very good and reminded me a bit of John Goetz.

Although I was hoping for more, the play was still enjoyable.

Next month, we will be looking at the third issue of the Jericho Season 3 - Civil War comic.