The World Ends in Hickory Hollow
by Ardath Mayhar
Copyright 1985 and 2007 Publisher: The Borgo Press, An Imprint of Wildside Press
Audio, e-book, Nook & Secure PDF available
Suitable for children? Yes, by age 10+, depending on the child? (I recommend that parents read it first to evaluate.)
There are two things about this book which strike me as remarkable for the genre:
First, this is a book written by a woman and told from a woman's point of view, and second, this book is very concise. With regard to the first point, I noticed that there was recently another SurvivalBlog book review with similar authorship and perspective, but these certainly seem to be the minority. It is nice to see that there are at least some women writing on these topics. As to the second point, I am going to provide a summary of the first twenty pages of this book. Notice how much the author has packed in and then consider for yourself if that is pro or con for your own preferences. It is a lot of story packed into only 160 pages. Spoilers ahead!
The story is of a young couple who grew up on adjacent farms, got married, moved to the big city, started their family and then realized that the life of the city was not good for them. They sold off their city house, quit their jobs and moved back to the country farms they had left. They had already gotten established in their new lifestyle when the lights went out. Being at the end of the line for service it was no shock for the lights to go out, and even a week later they didn't think it all that remarkable that the lights were still out, but when they went into town for supplies they were surprised to find that the world seemed to have been deserted. Neighbor's houses were clearly vacant, the road was empty and the stores closed. Only once they reached a small town did they notice a few wary folks watching from behind closed doors. Fortunately Zack's (the husband's) mom Allie was waiting for them. Knowing them, she expected they would not know what had happened. She filled them in with what details she had been able to glean from the radio. It was understood that a nuclear war had begun (note the original publication date of 1985) and bombs were dropped on the east coast, the Midwest, Colorado, Houston, and who knows where else. It seemed that everyone who survived the bombings responded by taking off to try to find their loved ones. Mom Allie just waited for the kids to come to her. The local town had chosen to set up a disaster shelter at the armory, but Mom Allie declined to move into there. Once Zack and Luce (the wife from whose perspective the story is told) arrived it was decided that Mom Allie would move back to the farm with them. Determining that the farm was already well stocked Mom Allie sent Zack down to the armory with her stash of home canned food to help out the other old timers who were down there and being fed "bought stuff".
When Zack returned from the armory he still had the canned food plus nine other folks who wanted out of there and back to the farms. Thus is established the core of the community which the reader will follow. And that?s the first twenty pages. As novels go, there is a price to be paid for this degree of conciseness. There is only the barest level of character development for many of the players. By no means does this destroy the story. There is plenty of action and drama to keep the reader engaged in the story line, but it does cause the reader to pause and consider which particular character is this, and where have I seen them before? It is simply the price of efficiency. Survival of the small community is threatened by fallout, tornado, a band of savage prostitutes turned into looters, and a government official who shows up out of nowhere. Fallout poses a concern about which nothing can be done. There is no hard information about where bombs have been dropped nor where the winds may have taken the fallout. Geiger counters and potassium iodide are not even considered (and perhaps were not even available to the general public in 1985). At any rate, all our characters can do is hope for the best on this count. The tornado presents a surprise challenge. It is not that tornados were unheard of in Eastern Texas, but they were not to be expected in summer. Some of the old timers could recall it happening though, and there was the possibility that the nukes had impacted the weather patterns. Regardless of how it occurred, it created some problems and taught the lesson that no one is self sufficient, and no one is coming to help either.
The band of women, the Ungers, seem an unlikely proposition at first glance, but the creation of the problem is plausibly presented to the reader. In essence, the prostitute mother and her prostitute daughters have lost their clientele and business model and resort to looting in order to feed themselves, even using one of their own very young daughters to get unsuspecting surviving farmers to open their doors. Once these women gain access they then brutally beat the occupants, often to death, take all the food they can find and ransack the house. They pose a constant threat throughout the novel, and a growing threat as they refine their techniques. The collapse of society opens up a world of options for those who are already on the fringes. The government official is a surprise vestige of the old world, trying to keep alive the bureaucracy and imposition of those who thrive on such things. More than anything he showed how it will be that everyone will do their best to sustain the world they have lost. Don't count on a collapse being the end of government imposition in private lives. By the end of the book a full year has elapsed. There are no illusions that going forward will be easy, but there are plans for the future and the old are teaching the young so that skill sets will not be lost. Overall, this novel is a good read. There are bad things which happen, but the action is not presented in full, graphic horror. The consequence of those actions are clear however. There is certainly a good deal of drama, but much is left to the reader?s own imagination. I did not notice any profanity. The novel is very quick and concise. This may be better for some, worse for others. Don?t read this book expecting to find detailed information which will help you survive. What this book will show you is the value of a variety of skill sets and of the knowledge of the old ones who have lived through a rougher world.