Book Review: Starvation Ridge

Starvation Ridge by Risa Stephanie Bear is a novel of the post collapse world. Bear is a former tree planter, firefighter, and tree cruiser (I had to look that up). She holds an MA in English and a MS in Art Management. Retired from the University of Oregon she now farms an acre of land in Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Post economic collapse books are fairly common today and with good reason. A casual look at the news will show stories of man-made climate change, pollution, chemical spills, endangered species, and a host of other environmental concerns. Looking a bit deeper there is peak oil and military intervention to ensure the flow of oil. Combine this with increased resource consumption and it appears we are on our way to a post collapse world. Most books I have read have a catch to draw you in. Some use evil corporations, authoritarian states, or even zombies. Bear, however, goes about it a different way. She keeps things real.

The world collapsed slowly. Oil became scarce, wars started (much like today), then the economy started to stumble, people lost jobs, walked away from mortgages, society started to collapse, disease, hunger, and then man slipped into a Hobbesian state of nature. Some people hid, like Karen and her father. Some people formed communities to pool labor, resources, and security. Some became gangs and used violence to survive and to take what they needed from others. This is where the book begins.

Karen’s father is killed by a gang, and she manages to escape with her bow and some survival gear. She is found by a community of farmers and joins them. This is the very primitive type of life but there is food, shelter, and a sense of belonging. Several characters in the community join Karen as main characters in the story. The community is a collection of backgrounds including military, a PhD, and mostly farm folk, from wise elders to children. They are a peaceful, but alert and protective of what they have built. With the collapse, manual labor is needed to run farm with some animal help. It is not a utopia, but perhaps, the closest thing to it.

Peaceful farming communities, however, are targets for roaming gangs. Wolf is the leader of this story’s gang. It contains the type of people one would expect: prisoners, skinheads, and those willing to embrace violence for violence’s sake. Like the farm community, they had only the technology they could find. Guns were part of that technology. The problem came with the limited ammunition. A gun without ammunition is just a piece of metal. Guns were also a status symbol for Wolf’s “non-commissioned officers”. The men are loyal, vicious, and a bit worse. When a member falls in battle, the others may miss that person, but welcomed the source of meat.

 

I am impressed with the depth of the story and the level of the characters. Starvation Ridge is the most realistic post collapse book I can remember reading. Bear demonstrates a wealth of practical knowledge. As a former Marine, I liked that Bear uses Marines as a few of the characters, and for once, the Marines were realistic. There are no Marine Corps doctors or scientists or other non-existent Marine Corps professions. She even manages to drop in a Semper Fi. The effort in keeping the Marines real follows in the rest of the story. Once you are in the story, you can leave your willing suspension of disbelief at the door. As fiction this is as real as it gets and it will keep you hooked to the end.

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