By September 28, 2005

Put this book in your Go Bag

As you know, I have been suffering from a reading slump. I can’t seem to finish the books that I start. My buddy is an avid reader and gamer. She loves scifi, fantasy, and zombies, and as such our interests intersect quite frequently. So when she suggested Meghann Marco’s Field Guide to the Apocalypse I eagerly ordered it from Amazon.

In a nutshell, Marco’s book describes how to survive various types of global disasters using “lessons” provided by popular culture and movies. The book itself is small, about 4″ x 6″, and softbound. The cover is nice — there’s a notebook-binding-esque finish to the spine that was a nice touch. The book has 204 pages of content, and a few black and white pictures. The book is definitely small and fits the survival motif quite well. You could definitely cram it in your go bag, although the cover paperstock is a little thin and is already bent from being in my messenger bag for a week.

I knew that my curse was broken the moment I started reading the introduction. Marco has a sarcastic wit and acerbic style that made me smile and laugh out loud a few times before I even got past the introduction. Unlike the other prose you read in college, I highly recommend you read the introduction — there’s a “what apocalypse are you?” style quiz at the end. Depending on how you answer the quiz, you are directed to different chapters in the book in a methodology reminiscent of Choose Your Own Adventure books. No one who is reading this entry would be surprised to learn that I went straight to the Neo-Medieval World, which is your typical after-the-bombs-fall world full of assless leather chaps and motorcycles with gatling guns mounted on the side.

At about this point in the book I looked at the clock. I had been reading non-stop, standing up in my kitchen, for a little bit over an hour and had consumed 97 pages. I was hooked.

The book sat on my desk or in my bag for a few days while I scampered about looking for motorcycles and generally being a miscreant. I took the book with me last Friday to meet Kyle. I am nervous about being late to appointments and I get lost quite easily, so I had about an hour to kill before Kyle showed up with his FZ6 and then a few hours thereafter before the first day of my MSF course. I read the remaining three sections, “The False Utopia,” “The Advanced Civilization,” and “Apocalypse Then: Tips for Saving the World” while sitting in a coffee shop downtown on Cary street.

These sections are much more light-hearted than the Neo-Medieval section. They are also more heavily based on movies and pop culture. Not to say the N-M section was devoid of movie tie-ins — the Mad Max series played quite heavily here — but the other sections involved scenarios that were more far-fetched than global warming or mass extinction. The “False Utopia” section, for example, dealt with a Matrix-like fantasy world, wherein the citizens were mental and emotional slaves to a higher power. “The Advanced Civilization” used Blade Runner as its backbone, with A.I. and a few other robot/androidy films thrown in for good measure. A particularly bright gem in this section was how to evaluate a robot for trustworthiness. Rule of thumb: the more it looks and acts like you, the more likely you are to have to gat it with a pulse rifle or smash it in a big ass hydraulic press. R2D2 was listed as the best and most trustworthy sidekick, the worst was Ash, the synthetic from the original Alien.

Fact or fiction?
My view of the book was certainly colored by reading the Neo-Medieval World section first. Sure, the book is categorized as humor and is based on the silliness of Hollywood end of days films, but Marco does a very good job at describing how close to the brink we really are. Just like the Zombie Survival Manual, you chuckle at first, and then you begin to scratch your head. I don’t know if it’s my base paranoid mentality, or if Marco intended her book to be part joke, part cautionary tale. It’s easy to laugh off the prospect of burning books from a library to keep warm (as seen in The Day After Tomorrow) or to think of a giant asteroid slamming into Amish country, but the bottom line is that sudden climactic change or an impact from a rogue Low Earth Orbit asteroid can — and will — happen at some point in the future. Follow up discussions of the greenhouse effect or the influenza epidemic that killed millions at the turn of the 20th century quickly took the wind out of my Chuckle Sails. Fortunately Marco was quick to balance the doom and gloom with her humor.

So I guess the big question is, is Marco’s book just a laugh rip, or is it something “more?” Akin to the Zombie Survival Manual, Marco’s book is effective because it talks about probable disasters without sounding too eco-freaky or too Nostradamus. If the ZSM was relabeled “How to survive the total breakdown of society” then I would expect it to be published by a militia up in Michigan by a guy with a scraggly-ass beard and an AK-47 hand-converted to full auto. Or a Mormon. Either one has a stockpile of fresh water and MREs in their basement and three backup wives as breeders. Whatever.

At the very least, the Field Guide to the Apocalypse is thought provoking. Unlike the movies, there isn’t going to be a lunatic scientist on the fringe who will find the miraculous cure for a supervirus and save the day. In fact, Marco points out that history is quite the opposite — without dumb luck, the smallpox vaccine might have never been found. When an asteroid streaks through the atmosphere, there won’t be a space shuttle full of hardcore oil rig workers to save the day. The truth is, we’d all be fucked.

Duck and cover

  • Gentle but logical treatment of many doomsday scenarios, including plague, resource depletion, and takeover attempts from superior alien civilizations.
  • The book is handsome and well illustrated. The cover is a nice touch.
  • Engrossing. Especially in the face of being unable to finish several recent books, Marco had me from the opening sentence.
  • One part reason, one part smartass, two parts swearing, Marco’s writing style is right up my alley.
  • Great companion to the Zombie Survival Manual. Unlike the ZSM, however, Marco knows when to quit. The book makes you want more.

A glitch in the matrix

  • Cover could be a bit more sturdy.
  • Some sections more glib than the Neo-Medieval chapter, although this could very well be my bias from being a freak and also having read the N-M section first.

Field Guide to the Apocalypse, I award thee five out of five STFU mugs from a bombed-out bunker!

Although mostly unrelated to her book, you can also check out Meghann Marco’s Web site and blog at

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1 Comment on "Put this book in your Go Bag"

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  1. configuratrix says:

    5 by 5!