The Unit by Terry Dehart

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The Unit by Terry Dehart

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Maurizio Valeri
Reviewed by Maurizio Valeri
Summary: A family struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic America.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841499338

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We all know about the nuclear family, well now meet the post-nuclear family in Terry De Hart's brutal vision of a post apocalyptic America.

We know the score; terrorists attack key US cities with nuclear devices, US retaliates on the nations supporting the terrorist. There is only one possible outcome, mass casualties and the breakdown of civil society leading to the rise of barbarism in a devastated landscape in the grip of a nuclear winter. Within this madness a family survives not knowing how much of the country or the world has been destroyed.

The father Jerry is an ex-marine and knows how to live in hostile territory. His wife Susan is angry at her world being torn apart but tries hard to keep her family together increasingly relying on her faith in God to pull her through. Scott their teenage son is almost glad that his life has taken this drastic turn rather than facing the endless boredom of his previous suburban existence. Melanie the teenage daughter who was about to go to college is trying to reconcile her pacifist beliefs and her idealistic view of the world with this new bleak reality. We also meet Bill Junior a juvenile prisoner leading a motley group of fellow young escapees on a bloody rampage out to get what they can from anyone they come across.

De Hart gives us a depressing view of humanity when the thin veneer of civilisation breaks down. The story unfolds through the eyes of each of the main characters, each chapter telling part of the story from the individual's perspective in their own voice, their fears and attitudes coming to the fore. This is not an easy thing to do and the author doesn't altogether succeed. Jerry's voice is believable as is to an extent Susan's but De Hart is less successful when he puts himself into the heads of the younger characters. The writing is best when it is describing the everyday reality of survival in such a dangerous environment but there are also a lot of self indulgent details regarding the calibre of guns and the effectiveness of different weapons, which tended to take away from the more interesting psychological element of the story.

You might think of comparing this to Cormac McCarthy's The Road and there are obvious similarities but these are only superficial. While The Road is an insightful examination of the human psyche this novel isn't that subtle or as well written. It concentrates more of the practicalities of post apocalyptic survival rather than any philosophical questions such a disaster might raise. Although The Unit does examine some of the moral implications of a post nuclear disaster it is really aiming for a different kind of reader. It seems to revel in a post-apocalyptic vision of the future where humans will have to revert to their primeval kill or be killed instincts. The underlying sentiment seems to be that society as it was in the past was a sham and that the reality of human interaction can only be seen down the barrel of a gun. It certainly makes a good case for all those crackpot survivalists who build nuclear shelters and hoard tinned pineapple chunks in their back yards. Maybe when the bomb drops they will have the last laugh. The author has certainly researched the effects of regional nuclear conflicts and pays due attention to the inevitable consequences to the environment of such an event but as the story progresses the novel increasingly becomes a fairly standard thriller with some adult themes.

Overall it wasn't a bad read, certainly gripping for the most part with an interesting writing style. In short if you're looking for existentialist post-apocalyptic philosophising then keep looking but if you're after an action filled thriller to enjoy while you lie on a beach on some secluded tropical paradise then you could do worse than this.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestions: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, Obernewtyn (Obernewtyn Chronicles) by Isobelle Carmody, Feed by Mira Grant, Rise of the Dust Child by James Young and The Pesthouse by Jim Crace.

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