Dystopian Disaster

Author: Damon Verial

Surviving Tacoma Book CoverI haven’t always been a fan of the dystopian thriller.  But as the genre gains popularity and more titles emerge, I’m seeing the appeal.  Or maybe I’m just getting more cynical – no matter how sucky things are, they could always be worse, right?  Say, for example, that there was a second Civil War.  And that cities declared hostile to the government were walled off and isolated, left to rot in their own filth.  That would be suckier.  It’s also the premise of Surviving Tacoma, by author Damon Verial.

We start out with a trio of brothers (well, a mix of step- and half-brothers) living in Gig Harbor, near Seattle.  Morris, the eldest, Randolph, and John, the cognitively impaired youngest, live a pretty average life in their Government-Neutral city.  They don’t have all the perks of living in a Government-Friendly city, but they have more autonomy.  They also get to watch as their parents are brutally attacked outside their suburban home.

Fleeing the attack takes them to the Tacoma wall.  Tacoma is Government-Hostile.  That wall has a one way gate – nobody gets out of Tacoma.  The boys don’t have a choice, though, since their pursuers know they’re witnesses to the attack and are pretty intent on ending their young lives.  So into Tacoma they go.  They know nothing about this world beyond rumor and speculation.  What they find is both better and worse than they imagined.

First, I want to say that Surviving Tacoma has a good basic premise.  The second Civil War, the drastic changes it causes and the inevitable corruption that seeps into the new system are all pretty interesting ideas.  I also like Randolph as a character.  He seems the most real of the three boys (though to be fair, John is only 8 and is but a mere shell of a character).  Morris, I don’t like.  But I don’t think I’m supposed to like him.  Where Randolph sets about using his brains to get them out of Tacoma, Morris turns to a life of delusions of grandeur, violence, and paramilitary insanity.

Unfortunately, every one of those good qualities buried inside Surviving Tacoma is drowned by hopelessly, unrelentingly poor writing.  I don’t say that lightly – I know that authors work very, very hard to craft their works, and I wouldn’t make such a damning statement were the offenses not so egregious.  But they are.  For example, author Verial misuses the words “lied” and “laid” no less than half a dozen times throughout the book.  He uses proper names in place of pronouns far too often, frequently using a character’s name in three of the four sentences in a paragraph.  The same is true of naming objects repeatedly in consecutive sentences rather than using the word “it”.

He also indulges in one of my pet peeves – using the term “on accident” instead of the more appropriate “by accident”.   Probably the very worst offense, the one that actually makes the book difficult to read in places, is his habit of leaving words out of sentences.  Actual sentence fragments taken directly from the book:

“and went out the bedroom”

“He threw it over his shoulder and ran out house”

We also get an abundance of typos of the variety seen when a spell checker is used to proofread instead of an objective pair of human eyes:

“Cat was there, leaning against the wall, reading his rifle”

“At his side him was Rory, holding a shotgun”

When you put it all together, Surviving Tacoma is a frustrating, difficult read that despite the promising premises ends up thin and disjointed.  The story comes to an abrupt and unsatisfying ending and author Verial can’t seem to decide what sort of political point he might be trying to make.  It’s neither enjoyable nor well written.  One star out of 5 for Surviving Tacoma and no recommendation for even the most stalwart dystopian reader.

– S. Millinocket

My thanks to author Verial for the preview copy of this book

Sue Millinocket
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