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Patriots and Pies
A Review of the James Wesley Rawles Novel
From time to time we attend gun shows for book signings, and each time we do we hear a chorus of enthusiasm for the revised novel Patriots, by James Wesley Rawles. After waiting for the Christmas shipping rush to subside, I ordered this book in the first days of 2010. After it arrived, in the midst of a record multi-week sub-freezing cold snap in globally-warmed Georgia, I began reading.
A few pages into the fourth edition, I was a little concerned. Fifty or so pages later, I was disturbed by the familiar theme of a well-funded super-group, particularly in these times in which hardly anyone's savings are untouched and many people have been trapped by debt. Some people don't even know whether they will have a home next year, much less be able to store fifty- or sixty-thousand dollars' worth of ammunition alone. But, by the time I finished this book two days later, I could see what people have been raving about. As a friend of mine told me, there is far more good in it than bad. I'm glad I bothered to get past those bumpy parts.
Because then it turned into a great book. With lots of good mini-stories.
I could rave on and on about all the good ideas in this book. Some of these I will highlight later. More importantly, I think, is for the reader to get past some of the unrealistic parts to focus on the actual underlying theme. I'll leave that theme to your imagination when you've read it. So, let's just talk for now about some of the unrealistic parts, and what can be done to overcome these issues. We can even talk about some ideas you might want to write into your own book someday.
Before proceeding to the meat of this review, we need to address a disclaimer. As the author states repeatedly, Patriots is just a work of fiction. Of course, much of fiction is based on reality. Just because Tom Clancy, for example, writes a book about a group of extremists building a nuclear bomb, it doesn't mean that Tom Clancy is telling you how to build a nuclear bomb, or whether you should. Or how to or whether to fly a fully-fueled airliner into a government building. Similarly, neither Rawles' book, nor this review, is advocating a particular course of action. It's all just for fun and should be treated accordingly. As such, portions of this review are written, fictionally, as I would have written portions of that book.
As I mentioned above, the first major issue I encountered with Patriots is the idea of a well-funded super-group. In the first fifty-or so pages, the heroes in question managed to pull off all the following:
• Have jobs straight out of college, or a few years out of college, in the six figures.
• Within a few years in the workforce, buy six-figure homesteads in cash.
• Continue working their jobs in Chicago (presumably paying rent or mortgage there, too).
• Talk their bosses into work-at-home deals.
• Take one or two three-day weekends per month to train.
• Attend expensive four-day training courses.
• Build or oversee contractors upgrading their retreat sites.
• Find beautiful nursing students in Chicago who are itching to live at the retreats.
• Customize their old-model vehicles with the best survival options.
• Tend a herb garden each summer.
• Talk the locals in Idaho and Washington State into giving them access to dynamite.
• Inherit millions.
• Have no kids (to start with).
• Have bosses gush about their productivity and give them promotions.
One main character even went to NINE top-tier specialty schools (plus boot camp) during a three-year USMC enlistment but didn't complete community college in four years. The first half of that equation is a bureaucratic impossibility. The second half is a neat plot detail. Newcomers to the supergroup are also given marksmanship training, expending hundreds of rounds each. No problem, our heroes have three hundred thousand rounds lying around.
The math, time, money or materials just don't add up in any of these cases. This could lead the reader, especially a reader hammered by the recent economic misery and collapse of home prices and just about everything he owns, to the hopeless conclusion that he is too far behind the power curve. Or that he lacks the essential skills and training to make it.
Don't despair, though, Mr. Rawles had to have this super-group prepared with just about everything so that he would have a foundation from which to tell the rest of the book, without reams of pointless character development. In your individual case, anything you can do to prepare will help you. Even a single can of food tucked away or a single useful book read and understood is better than despair. I know a lot of people who would like to be starting from nothing right now instead of the holes in which they find themselves. Count your blessings.
I'm going to ignore the ethical conflicts of stopping passerby on a public road (seen in the book from both perspectives, but always presented to benefit the protagonists' ethics). Sadly, I don't have a better solution to this dilemma. I'm also going to ignore the buds of socialism and autocracy that are a staple of survivalist literature, even as they fight the forces of socialism and autocracy.
One neat idea in the book involves radio modification by replacing the crystals. Keep in mind, however, that such a modification, legalities aside, will necessarily reduce the range of the radio, sometimes dramatically. The output stages of the radios are tuned to resonate at a particular band of frequencies. Deviate too much from the design parameters and these stages work to limit range to comply with FCC restrictions and reject unwanted interference. The crystal and these output stages work hand-in-hand, but in independent ways.
If your book characters proceed down this route, an electronics engineer, even with a B.S., or a highly experienced electronics technician, can help you a lot. They will know how to match footprints, case formats, capacitance and a host of other issues for you. They will also know to order stock crystals from houses such as Digikey at very low prices, or even how to have a custom crystal sampled in onsies or twosies from a crystal manufacturer such as Suntsu Frequency Control. For more, these manufacturers will often require an order of a thousand or more, at a minimum, but at that quantity you can get pretty much what you want for about a dollar or less each. What could you do with a thousand custom radio crystals?
Have your heroes in your book hang on to the old crystals for interoperability later. For the modification, now or later, the engineer character will need a Metcal soldering station and some stuff known as SMD Chip Quik, part number SMD2000 from Digikey. The Metcal can be found in just about any up-scale engineering lab today and is far superior to the Radio Shack clunker you might have in the garage. Post-crisis, our heroes might find one on that barter table with all the other electronic junk (or gathering dust in a lab somewhere). Get all the little metal stick inserts for the wand they can find, without these the Metcal is just a poor space heater. Have them trade some boxes of ammo for a digital (not analog) storage oscilloscope, too. The Chip Quik you probably better have your heroes store for later use, which allows you to remove and replace surface mount components with ease, if you have a Metcal. It stores practically forever as long as you keep the bag closed.
An RF expert (we have lots of them out of work here now as it is) can also change that output circuit on your radios accordingly. To do so he'll need to use some custom capacitors and inductors, the values and sizes of none of which you could predict until he does his analysis, but are cheap from Digikey today. Such an individual will not only know what values he could substitute based on what you can find after a crisis, but he could guide your searches accordingly. Or even have plenty on hand from his own private stash.
Regardless, the big boys will be able to track and listen to your radio no matter what you do to it. These modifications will only keep the rabble out.
Another issue in the book that I noticed was the use of detergent powder to make napalm. This will not work at all. Napalm requires actual solid soap, not liquid soap or detergent powder. Soap has an entirely different chemical composition than detergent. I would have had my characters use Ivory Snow instead. Or just smash up bar soap of any kind.
Dynamite, as mentioned earlier, was easily obtained in the book by farmers and others. Maybe this is true in Idaho, but good luck finding any farmer with dynamite here in Georgia, or practically anywhere else. No matter. I'm going to have to write a story some day about this idea: with hardly anything other than sulfuric acid, potassium or sodium nitrate and glycerin, just about anyone can make nitroglycerin if you know how to do it and how to do it safely. Even a kid can make it in his grandmother's kitchen in southern Mississippi. Or so I heard a few decades ago.
Are exotic materials required? Hardly. Sulfuric acid can be made by our fictional heroes from flowers of sulfur and water, or by concentrating fresh battery acid. Potassium nitrate is available over-the-counter in remote areas for various animal medicinal purposes or as tree stump remover. Or made from manure, urine and ashes using the Confederate formula imported from just about everywhere in the world and common knowledge until children began being indoctrinated, I mean taught, in public schools. Alternatively, sodium nitrate is a common fertilizer. Pick either nitrate compound, add sulfuric acid and distill the result (glass only, please) into a little water. Poof (figuratively) and our heroes get nitric acid. Rawles could then have had this nitric acid combined with more sulfuric acid, which was then used to treat glycerin in a gently air-stirred (from a tractor tire, perhaps) ice bath. Suitable post-processing ensues.
Glycerin is available as an emollient over the counter (sometimes diluted) or as a byproduct from making soap or biodiesel (always diluted). Concentrating the glycerin just requires a simple fractional distillation still that was common in high school chemistry labs, or in the hands of moonshiners before they became outlaws. Hmmm. When did Prohibition start? I think it was just a few years after a big new federal thingy got started.
This nitroglycerin could be used in a primitive dynamite as in the book, but there's better uses for it. Replace the glycerin with cotton, and our heroes wind up with nitrocellulose. Pour the nitroglycerin in that, and the mixture puffs up into a nice gel. Which is good for blasting, less sensitive than nitroglycerin alone, and doesn't leak. Adjust the parameters a little and you get double-base powder. Adjust them some more, add some rubberizing agents like found in a old tire, along with aluminum powder as desired, and you get a nice start to a rocket motor industry. Rocket motors that handle the elements much better than pressed gunpowder. All kinds of fun stuff you can do with that, such as lifting a magnesium flare or other signaling applications. Or launching pointy things.
I'm sure there's some reason why we don't teach our children chemistry anymore. Or why we declare it illegal for a private citizen to distill anything.
Gasoline is one of the big wasting assets in the book. Mr. Rawles is right about this, but there is another side to that coin. A refinery is nothing more than a big fractional distillation column, but the principles are the same as in a moonshine still, except that you don't need the expensive copper that moonshiners use for drinking quality. Fractionally distill gasoline and you will wind up with a lot of sort-of-gasoline, but missing other things that are good for making cars run smooth, not knock, and be nice to plants. Screw the plants, tweak the knock away and running rough is better than no run at all. Keep the middle fractions and reblend some of the rest, and you get a pretty good gasoline back. All those underground storage tanks are then full of pure liquid gold.
Besides, gasoline engines can be run from another fuel: wood. Back when our government wasn't completely out to enslave us all, Oak Ridge came out with an excellent paper about how to convert a gasoline engine to run on wood in case of nuclear war. This paper and links to interesting videos about the process are available from this site at:
Which brings us to our next topic, generators. Recall from the book how the heroes hand-cranked a generator for an hour on each shift. Remember this rule: the worst machine beats the strongest man. The same oomph that drives a wood gas truck can also drive a generator, or just tap the power from the truck's alternator directly into your 12v storage batteries. Almost like it was made for it.
But what about lubricants? Everyone knows you can't filter used motor oil. Remember those moonshiners and our gasoline refinery? Take the worst used motor oil you have and fractionally distill that, and what comes out the middle will be abrasive-free motor oilish stuff. It won't be your favorite blend of irrelevant additives, but it will keep things running smooth. Some of the early vapor which comes off first can be blended into the gasoline and burned with it, too. Later vapor before the oil boils is water, vent that out.
What about oil and air filters? These use essentially the same material as coffee filters. Get out your MIG welder and adapt an existing oil filter can into a more easily managed filter which can use coffee filters. With enough time, someone will decide to start processing wood into fiber to make more. Plus, old Belarus tractors, which hardly deserve the name, had one redeeming property: a centrifugal oil filter. Instead of filtering the oil through a paper filter, these separate contaminants by spinning the oil quickly. The cyclone vacuum cleaners do essentially the same thing to air. In any event, an oil or air filter element would last a lot longer at the end of such centrifugal separators.
Grease? Take some of the distilled heavier fractions from the oil (not the crud that doesn't boil off, it has all the metal giblets you were trying to remove), melt in some petroleum wax from the canning stocks and you will have a serviceable grease. Stretch it with rendered animal fat, the stiffer the better. It will smell bad at some point, but still be pretty slippery. Plus the smell will tell you when its time to add more.
Do these micro-industries sound far fetched? They shouldn't. All of these things will happen if you protect property rights post-collapse. Make sure the guy who owns the wood-fired micro-refinery doesn't get shot by looters (criminal or civil), and he will be able to trade you reformulated gasoline and oil as long as you can bring him raw material. And bring it to him using your wood-fired truck. Oh, wait a minute, I just remembered. We shouldn't be burning wood (in this country) because it can hurt the planet, just like distilling hurts men's souls. Never mind.
Looking elsewhere and switching gears, I didn't think the story spent enough time on killing scouts. Talk about your plot twists. Actively hunting down and killing scouts wherever they are found has so many benefits that it is hard to list them all here. Early deployment, confusion and difficulty in recruiting replacement scouts are only a few. One big obvious bonus is that it buys your book's heroes more time to prepare.
One issue completely missing from the book is the scouting or attacks performed by airborne drones. Which is why drone pilots, or those who maintain or launch the drones, are an important target. These individuals should be helped to the conclusion that it isn't a fun thing to do any more. Many drones in the hands of the big boys are controlled from far away, but they, usually, have to launch from somewhere and be handled by someone nearer to you. Perhaps the characters in a book can bring those people pie and strike up a conversation about their folks back home. Even local police departments in big cities are getting their hands on drones now. This can be bad or good, depending on one's perspective. As an author, of course. Some even build and fly their own drones:
If these videos disappear, as, strangely, many do, search YouTube for "homemade UAV" and look for the ones that have video feed from the plane. There will be more. GPS is a nice-to-have, not a must-have, and video quality is poor in these examples. Even so, either can see better than your book's heroes can in their hole. Also, for troops accustomed to being on the beneficiary end of this sort of technology, one of these appearing overhead and circling around will cause a little concern. They might even shoot at it, regardless of its actual reconnaissance value, which could cover the sounds of a nearby sniper. Given that it might have reconnaissance value, they really don't have a choice, do they? You never know, rumors of armed drones might even pop up as a result.
Finally, as organizational scouts, in the book the bureaucrat and his pilot should never have been allowed out alive. When the characters in your book decide to go to war, put bravado aside. Then, have the heroes smile, wave, shake hands and serve the bad guys pie. Get the bureaucrat and pilot to answer questions about all the wonderful things that are happening out in the world. And when they stop answering questions, kill them. But under no circumstances let them out alive, since bureaucrats on the loose tend to attract lots of other vermin. That policy also makes it not so much fun to be a bureaucrat. And it doesn't hurt to have your enemies wonder why their guys just seem to evaporate out there somewhere.
Because the next time they send a bureaucrat, they will have to send troops with him. Troops that have to be drawn from fighting your characters' brothers elsewhere. Troops that can be killed off in their smaller number piecemeal before they get to gang up again. Or troops, at arm's length now from their bureaucratic prisons, who can decide to shoot their colonels and join you. And add their arms, ammunition and equipment to yours. Cheaper than buying and storing all that stuff yourself, don't you think? But they have to reveal themselves to you first or they simply die when you are ready. Which means only the most hard-core troops will be trusted for doling out in small units to meet you. Better than your brethren fighting them in the dirt. And better that those hard-core troops be antagonizing all the fence-sitters they encounter.
There are many ways this could play out, none of them the same. Write your own chapter here. In one particularly Twilight-Zonish version, imagine June Cleaver dresses on all the ladies, with celebrations and flirting and cuddling. And pie. And then when the whistle blows or the car horn honks or the church bells ring or the local DJ plays that favorite song, the knives come out from the garters or off the pie plates or from behind the pillows or cushions or from the man at the next picnic table over who was carving the ham, all points of which sink into all those necks. The survivors will suddenly feel very alone. For a little while. Some, too late, may decide to surrender then. Have your characters talk with them, smile and wave. For a little while. Too bad they didn't decide to join of their own free will and accord when they had the chance.
But this story would require an unwritten understanding among all patriots in the book that when some self-propped national or international government pops up, their agent bringing that news and their edicts is a dead man. Which is why in the early days before the collapse, when law and order exists all around, and the gun grabbers come, don't let them kill you. Smile and wave and serve them pie. Your time will come.
At least that's how I would have written it.
Overall, Patriots is an excellent book. Even an essential book. It's just that the author had to take some liberties to get it started. That always seems to be the problem, isn't it, how to start? Maybe it starts with pie.
Starving the Monkeys
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