It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I’m feeling fine…
L.A. Dark was a quick little freebie, my 2 a.m. Twix bar of temptation. Although truthfully not a fabulous read, it was entertaining enough, greatly assisting in wakefulness during a dreadfully dull night shift.
A trio of male roommates, two girlfriends and a dog are hanging out in their L.A. apartment when reports about international warfare start to trickle in. Before long there are a number of startling flashes across the L.A. skyline. Moments later, the power goes out. They’re left with the decision to stay and hope for help, or to leave.
I appreciated the set-up that seems to examine the psychology of both the individual and the group. The beauty of a multi-character format is that an author can use different characters to explore the range of possible reactions as people adjust to their new reality and the changes in the city around them. The evolution of coping and societal breakdown is reflected in deliberately paced timeline, which I liked. People will be nice at first in a disaster, but unfortunately, the people most able to cope in a war-zone may not be the most compassionate.
I also found it had a generally satisfactory plot to description ratio. It is always interesting to see how an author creates and mitigates the doomsday scenario, but there is a common tendency to get bogged down in details.
Unfortunately, this free segment ends on a cliffhanger. If this is the sort of thing that bothers you, don’t pick it up. The sequel was $3.50, so I figured it averaged out to acceptable cost to distraction ratio. There’s a third section due out in September, but I’m on the fence as to whether I’d pick it up. The sequel required enough skimming that it seems unlikely.
More problematically, the characterization could use development. There’s an L.A. pseudo-punk stoner with an odd degree of aggression and faith in the system (a living oxymoron), a woman with Aspergers who keeps track of time, a white-bread dude that’s a faceless stand-in for the reader, a pilot, and an ex-ghetto/ex-military guy. Within short order, I had them mostly confused, and I couldn’t tell you much about them except the above traits. The ex-ghetto guy is the most fleshed out, although he has the tendency to sprinkle his sentences with “ese” which helps identify him. It didn’t annoy me as much as it could have–when I was in college in L.A., it was “homes” for the pseudo-ghetto so I’m familiar with the verbal tic. My guess is that he’s modeled on someone the author knows, and the females were modeled on women who were girl-friends.
I was neutral about Gustav’s tendency to info-dump, particularly about the electro-magnetic pulse. The information barrage takes the form of one character educating the others, so it’s not as annoying as it could be for me, as I skimmed over the dialogue. I’m pretty sure the rest of the cast was attempting to refrain from pelting him with blue M&Ms.
I recognize that in most books, there’s a certain amount of baseline coincidences and exceptions that help create the book, but here there is a preponderance of convenience. A pilot character who has the unusual quirk of being fascinated with old-style aircraft? An army guy who’s hobby is electronics? A very smart, military-style trained dog? A family who is extensively prepping for doomsday? 20s somethings with headlamps but lacking camping gear and bicycles? 50% of the people in the story knowing how to use a gun (including the stoner)? Helpful coincidences are a given, but the author needs to integrate them to seem natural, not just drop it in as a helpful skill/solution when needed.
Ultimately, I’d say sure, go ahead and read, if it’s 2 in the morning and you have nothing else to do, or you need to get your apocalypse fix on. It’s on par with Extinction Point, another one of those doomsday books that reads well enough until you actually think about it for five minutes. I read this one for the plot (because 2 a.m. is a lousy time for slow and thoughtful reads) and so wasn’t disappointed. Two and a half stars rounding up because, well, I’m a softie.