This week on the author blog, Leland Lydecker reviews a book about his home town that gets almost everything wrong. That’s right, it’s Craig Martelle’s Endure: End Times in Alaska!
Endure has garnered a lot of criticism for eschewing the explicit violence, conservative values, and thinly-veiled racism that are common components of the Post-Apocalyptic genre. I have no problem with that. The problem lies in the fact that Martelle hasn’t replaced the those themes with anything of substance. There’s no conflict. There’s never any real sense that Chuck and his family are in jeopardy. Endure is a survival story without the survival.
Finishing this book was a study in endurance. The story is incredibly slow, and the portrayal of the residents and geography of Fairbanks is laughably inaccurate. It feels like an outsider’s fantasy of “roughing it” in the “wilds” of the 49th state– within easy driving distance of a convenience store, of course. The story is riddled with errors that demonstrate how out of touch the author is with the reality of life in Interior Alaska.
The inciting incident is the detonation of what the protagonist assumes to be a nuclear device at the western end of Fort Wainwright. For those of you not in the know, the western end of Fort Wainwright is military housing. Moving farther east into the central area of the post, there’s the hospital and some administrative buildings and supply depots. I’m pretty sure that, in the laughably improbably event that a foreign power bothered to drop a nuke on Fort Wainwright, they would aim for the airfield, with its surrounding hangars, motor pools, and barracks, rather than the family housing area.
The protagonist lives scarcely ten minutes from town, yet Martelle refers to the area as rural and remote. At one point he describes there being “ten miles, two hills, and a stand of trees” between Chuck’s residence and the city. Except for a smattering of agricultural land (none of it between the protagonist’s home and Fairbanks,) all of the land around Fairbanks is forested.
In another glaring error, Chuck tells a convoy of fleeing residents to avoid town due to radioactive fallout. Then he gives them directions that will force them to drive through the western end of town to reach the most direct highway route heading south. Apparently Martelle didn’t realize that there’s another way around.
Nearly every resident in the surrounding area seems to have miraculously been in town at the time of the attack. When the family needs more food, the protagonist simply starts looting empty houses and quickly finds a neighbor’s freezer full of frozen game meat. A fresh supply of fuel for the family’s pellet stove appears in much the same way. Chuck briefly worries about feeding his dogs until the gruesome demise of a local dog musher and his team provides him with a shed full of dog food.
Martelle’s contempt for candy and processed sugars, even as Chuck loses ten pounds in a month due to rationing food and working outside in cold weather, amply demonstrates how out of touch he is with life below zero. People who are literally starving don’t turn down candy bars.
Endure is riddled with similar mistakes; one of the more laughable is the family’s plan to start a garden with seeds from a generic seed kit he bought online. Plants that produce well in warmer climates with longer growing seasons rarely fare well in Interior Alaska– an unfortunate fact that every gardener new to the state discovers.
Ignorance Is Dangerous
The author seems to know little about cold weather travel. As Chuck steals snowmachines for himself and his wife, there is no mention of helmets being borrowed to go with them. Wearing an enclosed helmet in cold weather isn’t about being legal; it’s about not freezing your face. Martelle describes Chuck roaring down the road after a wolf pack that’s chasing a dog musher; the temperature is well below zero, and Chuck is traveling 50 mph. That’s a wind chill of -50 to -60. Can you say “frostbite”?
The family makes a snowmachine trip to Chena Hotsprings, nearly 50 miles away, with the couple’s 2-year-old twins and dogs riding in a sled. Even at slower speeds, the adults would have been miserable and the children would have been hypothermic by time they arrived at their destination. This is dangerously stupid.
The Ridiculous Wolf Attack Scenario
In what can only be described as an attempt to manufacture the first real danger the protagonist has encountered, Chuck discovers a wolf pack following a local dog musher home. In a rush to rescue his acquaintance, he rolls his snowmachine and arrives too late to help; the wolves have already chewed the musher’s hand off and killed most of his dogs. Yes, apparently the author thinks this is something that could actually happen. It’s okay to laugh– I did too.
In reality, this is exceptionally improbable. The number of times wolves have attacked humans in Alaska in recorded history can be counted on one hand, and in most of those cases the wolf was either rabid or cornered. What’s more, they’d be far more inclined to go for a lone individual such as Chuck than a musher and all his dogs.
This Didn’t Have To Happen
A novel about surviving a world-altering event in Alaska could be fascinating. We have plenty of tough, interesting people with the skills to survive such a scenario. As a result of the high cost of living and remoteness from infrastructure, modern conveniences like running water, electricity, phone service, and daily trips to the grocery store are not available to a significant portion of the population.
People still heat with firewood, know how to cook on a wood stove, and stock up for several months between shopping trips. Many homes are now equipped with solar cells, wind turbines, and battery banks. For many of us, life after an End-Of-The-World-As-We-Know-It event wouldn’t be so different from life now.
There are also plenty of real hazards for the survivors to face without resorting to implausible scenarios. This could have been an interesting story– if it’d been written by a person with a decent understanding of Interior Alaska, its geography, and its people. Instead, Craig Martelle’s Endure: End Times in Alaska serves as nothing more than a guidebook on how to make yourself the laughing stock of an entire state.
Here’s some free advice for aspiring authors: don’t write about a place you know little or nothing about. If you must write about a place you’re not intimately familiar with, give it a fictional name. You’re welcome.
Feel free to leave a comment, drop by my Facebook author page, or hit me up on Twitter @Leland_Lydecker. And if you’re Craig Martelle and want a real Alaskan to provide critical feedback on your future literary endeavors, get in touch. If I’m feeling charitable, I might even do it for free.