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The Unit - Terry DeHart

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Genre: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Author: Terry DeHart / Paperback / 320 Pages / Book is published 2010-07-01 by Orbit

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      08.09.2010 18:36
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      An ordinary family struggles to survive in a post apocalyptic america

      We all know about the nuclear family, well now meet the post-nuclear family in Terry De Hart's brutal vision of a post apocalyptic America.

      We all know the score; terrorists attack key US cities with nuclear devices, the US retaliates in turn by way of tactical nuclear strikes on the nations believed to be supporting the terrorists. The situation escalates and at the end of it all there is only one possible outcome, mass casualties and the breakdown of civil society leading to the rise of barbarism in a devastated landscape in the grip of a nuclear winter. Within this madness an ordinary family survives not knowing how much of the country or the world has been destroyed.

      Fortunately the father Jerry is an ex-marine and is adept at surviving in hostile territory. His wife Susan is angry at her world being torn apart but tries hard to keep her family together increasingly relying on her faith in God to pull her through. Scott their teenage son is almost glad that his life has taken this drastic turn rather than facing the endless boredom of his previous suburban existence. Melanie the teenage daughter who was about to go to college is trying to reconcile her pacifist beliefs and her idealistic view of the world with this new bleak reality. We also meet Bill Junior a juvenile prisoner and sadistic sociopath, leading a motley group of fellow young escapees on a bloody rampage across the wounded landscape. They are out to get what they can from anyone they come across and show no compassion or mercy while doing it.

      De Hart gives us a depressing view of humanity when the thin veneer of civilisation breaks down. Interestingly the story unfolds from the personal perspective of each of the main characters. Each chapter tells part of the story from the individual's view in their own voice, their own fears and attitudes coming to the fore. This is an inventive literary device and quite an unusual way of telling this type of story. The author has to be commended for attempting something slightly out of the norm. However trying to tell the story from so many different perspectives does carry some risk, it is not an easy thing to do and DeHart doesn't altogether succeed. Jerry's voice is believable as is to an extent Susan's but De Hart is less successful when he puts himself into the heads of the younger characters. The writing is best when it is describing the everyday reality of survival in such a dangerous and grim environment but there is also a lot of self indulgent details about the types of weapons that the characters have at their disposal, the calibre of guns the range and their effectiveness on different targets. For me this held little appeal and tended to take away from the more interesting psychological element of the story.

      The characters especially Susan, all seem to turn to religion to different extents to find solace and make sense of the ordeal they are going through, which again I found a little annoying. Yes, I can understand how this might happen in such tough times but the reawakening of religious belief to some extent in all the characters seemed a little strained to me. I would think that for every new convert there would be as many abandoning their faith when faced with such a disaster. Some must also feel that God had abandoned them in the time of their greatest need. Maybe this overtly religious overtone in certain aspects of the story reflected the author's personal belief rather too strongly.

      You might think of comparing 'The Unit' to Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' and there are obvious similarities but these are only superficial. While 'The Road' is an insightful examination of the human psyche this novel isn't that subtle or as well written. It concentrates more of the practicalities of post apocalyptic survival rather than any philosophical questions such a disaster might raise. Although 'The Unit' does examine some of the moral implications of a post nuclear disaster it is really aiming for a different kind of reader. It seems to revel in a post-apocalyptic vision of the future where humans will have to revert to their primeval kill or be killed instincts. The underlying sentiment seems to be that society as it was in the past was a sham and that the reality of human interaction can only be seen down the barrel of a gun. It certainly makes a good case for all those crackpot survivalists who build nuclear shelters and hoard tinned pineapple chunks in their back yards. Maybe when the bomb drops they will have the last laugh. The author possibly due to his military background has certainly researched the effects of regional nuclear conflicts and pays due attention to the inevitable consequences to the environment of such an event and the story arc was scarily believable. However as the story progresses the novel increasingly becomes a fairly standard thriller with some adult themes. The pacing of the story is excellent and by the end it is a real page-turner even though the conclusion with the inevitable final showdown is a little predictable.

      Overall it wasn't a bad read, certainly gripping for the most part with an interesting writing style. In short if you're looking for existentialist post-apocalyptic philosophising then keep looking but if you're after an action filled thriller to enjoy while you lie on a beach on some secluded tropical paradise then you could do worse than this. I believe a sequel following the fortunes of some of the characters in this first novel is planned and it wouldn't surprise me if this story didn't turn up as a mini-series on US cable TV some time soon.

      The Unit' by Terry De Hart can be bought in paperback (320 pages) at Amazon for £5.99 (incl. p&p) at the time this review was written.

      A shorter version of this review was first published on Bookbag.co.uk

      Recommended as a good holiday read.

      ©Mauri 2010

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