Without belaboring how it got there, the author has developed a detailed and convincing post-apocalyptic world. Modern as far as the vehicles, weapons and computer technology are concerned, other elements have a medieval flavor including a feudal social structure and a bit of sword play. In this case the holdings of the elite are not so much land itself but what all need to survive–water. In other words, a few have gained control of the water supply with the different “houses” within “The Collective” system jockeying for positions within their own hierarchy while keeping the unfortunate masses at bay. The complexity of the political structure is well thought out and demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature as a relative handful of individuals struggle to maintain what they’ve acquired while also trying to advance through whatever means necessary.
Victor Xonox is the primary villain among many. He’s cruel and ruthless regarding everything and everyone save his beloved daughter, Pheona. He maintains his position with the proverbial iron fist enforced with lethal consequences. No one is allowed to obtain water except through his distribution channels. Anyone found having their own source such as a well is quickly dispatched. And thus we meet Abel, son of a former Army Ranger, whose family has their own covert water supply. Discovery results in the usual punishment except Abel escapes, bent on vengeance. As you would expect, Abel’s quest results in his meeting up with a variety of interesting characters. Each is well-developed with a detailed background and agenda of their own which brings them vividly to life.
While some action-oriented stories lack detail, that is not the case here. I measure fiction through a system I call IDEAS, an acronym which stands for Imagery, Dialog, Emotion, Action and Suspense. As a whole, a good story has an appropriate balance of them all. In this regard Hillard did an outstanding job. Visual, societal, weapons and character detail were outstanding, dialog convincing, enough emotion to make the characters human and provide motivation as well as plenty of action and suspense.
At times I felt as if there were too many named characters and I had trouble keeping track of them all with their exotic names. However, life itself is populated with legions and given the plot and situations, having so many people around contributed to the story’s convincing tone. So convincing, in fact, that its dark and gloomy essence was hard to bear at times since I’m not usually a fan of apocalyptic and dystopian tales, especially ones as vividly portrayed as this one.
On a personal note, I have seen a modern version of this story play out, albeit less violently. I live in the second row from one of Central Texas’ largest reservoirs, Lake Buchanan. In the above picture you can see it as it appeared on 29 January 2011. Little did I know when I snapped that picture that I may not ever see the lake at that level again. Ironically, at the time we considered it low!
This area has been in a severe drought for several years and during that time I’ve seen the lake drained at the behest of those in positions of power, putting the drinking water of millions at risk. In a long and complicated story which, if written, would undoubtedly be the length of an epic novel, since 2011 the lake has receded until it eventually fell as low as below one third capacity. Note the boat ramp in both pictures is one and the same with the second picture taken exactly eight months later. The lake view vista is now obstructed as well with an exposed strip of land to the left of the distant stand of trees which in normal years is inundated. The second picture below shows looking back from the waterline to the houses, where the lake level should reach their retaining walls.
Thus, I have witnessed first-hand how water can spark a political battle until at long last a local leader rose to the occasion and led a fight for the rights of those whose local businesses and property values had been decimated for the good of corporate rice farmers downriver who sold their product mostly overseas.
Residents along other lakes in the Highland chain deemed “constant level” (which just happened to have multimillion dollar homes along their shores) were blissfully unaware there was a serious drought. Meanwhile, along Lake Buchanan property values plummeted while resort and business owners closed as the lake was no longer accessible. Furthermore, what was left was too hazardous to enjoy since the pecan orchards inundated with the lakes creation in the 1930s were now exposed, giving it the appearance of an eerie swamp. In some cases, those who were once waterfront could no longer even see the water, yet were still required to pay the excessive tax rate they were assessed for their supposed prime location.
So how did this come about? Our former governor (and aspiring presidential candidate, by the way) at one time was over the state’s Department of Agriculture. Thus, he had a close relationship with corporate rice farmers on the far end of the Colorado River near the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these farmers were thus his appointees on the governing board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) who supposedly “managed” what are known as the Highland Lakes. In normal years, releasing water for the rice farmers to flood their fields, a practice related to controlling weeds, not the growth of the rice itself, was not a problem because winter and spring rains would replenish the supply.
This, however, was no longer the case with the drought. The usual release was made, nonetheless, which was further exacerbated by human error when someone failed to close the dam’s flood gates when they should have been. It was as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub and the lake fell to less than one third capacity, its precious waters eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. And thus it has remained for years.
This spring Texas received a lot of rain, relieving much of the drought in some areas, but much of it missed our watershed. Lake Buchanan is now at 52% while the others in the Highland Lakes chain are at capacity. Hopefully it will eventually be full again but so far that is not the case.
Clearly a commodity needed for life itself can be a powerful tool and those who seek position and control for selfish reasons will never hesitate to exploit situations that advance their personal agendas without regard for the good of anyone or anything else that stands in their way. Unfortunately, we see this every day. Thus, the premise itself of “The Collective” is highly credible given that there will always be despots like Victor Xonox who build an empire on the backs of those less fortunate.
The plot exposes and investigates the character of those with no regard for the lives of their fellow human beings. It inspires hope in that a leader or coalition of those opposing their evil intent will eventually also arise in the form of heroes and a few antiheroes. While this story had a reasonably satisfying ending, the author also left it open for a sequel which is sure to come. Whether or not you’re a fan of dystopian tales, this one is exceptionally well-written and worth reading as a reminder of what can happen when a few power-hungry individuals assume control of an essential commodity. I have seen it happen with near-tragic consequences from my front porch.
You can purchase a copy of this story at the link below. Don’t think it couldn’t happen where you live.