Review of “Patriots,” by Rawles

Hokay: First, let me preface by saying that Survivalblog, Rawles’ website, is a wonderful place full of wonderful information, and I’ve no doubt that John Wesley, Rawles (extra comma is his choice, not mine, and please don’t ask him why it’s there or he’ll tell you. You won’t like that.) is probably a wonderful guy. We share much in common philosophically, if not religiously, and I’d have his back in an instant. We differ markedly on the whole “sovereign citizen” thing, but I’m not going to get into that. He’s a freedomista, and I’m not here to tear him down.

Having said that, Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse has my vote for Bad Freedomista Fiction of the Month here at TUAK. Strictly from the standpoint of literature, this book makes The Black Arrow read like Cryptonomicon. It is just that bad.

In fact, it’s one of those books that, when tasked to describe exactly why I hate it so, I simply don’t know where to begin.

Is it the characters? Buddha on a barbecue, I don’t even know how to start with the characters. I scanned Amazon comments, and they hit it better than I could if I took all night. “For any of these characters to achieve the description of ‘two-dimensional’, you’d have to add at least two dimensions.” “If I was in a situation where I had to survive with any of these people, I’d kill myself.” I was giving Rawles at least one thumbs-up for adding ONE SINGLE PROTAGONIST who wasn’t devoutly religious…and then that character repented and got Jesus. I guess I should be happy that the story’s single Jew didn’t convert to Christianity. And it just goes on that way. It’s good that the one description that definitely doesn’t fit this novel is ‘character-driven’, because all the characters are bores. It would be so much worse if Rawles actually depended on them. We don’t ever learn a great deal about any of the protagonists, but we know what guns they carry, down to the style of the grip screws on their Colt Gold Cup 1911 pistols. An actually typical paragraph:

Among others, Dan owned a Belgian FN/FAL assault rifle, an early 1960’s Portuguese contract version of the Armalite AR-10 (predecessor of the AR-15, but chambered in 7.62 mm NATO), a SSG “Scharf Shuetzen Gewehr” sniper rifle made in Austria, a Beretta Model 92SB 9 mm pistol, two Browning Hi-Power 9 mm pistols, including one with a tangent rear sight and shoulder stock, a stainless steel Smith and Wesson .357 magnum revolver, a Winchester Model 1897 twelve-gauge riotgun, a McMillan counter-sniper rifle chambered in the .50 caliber machinegun cartridge, a scoped Thompson-Center Contender single shot pistol chambered in .223 Remington, and several World War II vintage guns including a Walther P.38 pistol, an M1A1 folding stock carbine, and an M1 Garand. Eventually, with much prodding from the group, he also bought a full set of the group standard guns and spare magazines.

I guess personalities are overrated anyway. And in many cases they don’t matter, for several characters are set up with lengthy introductions and then vanish entirely from the plot and almost from the book.

Is it the dialogue?

Finally, after taking a sip of tea, Roger spoke. “Earl Grey – my favorite.” Next, everyone tried to speak at once, then laughed.

After a few pleasantries and talk about the weather, they proceeded to talk business. Roger reported, “We took several votes in the course of two meetings of the Templars. We are prepared to talk terms of an alliance.”

Todd beamed. “Excellent. What scope for the alliance did you have in mind?”

After a pause, Roger answered, “We want to set up a mutual aid and security pact. We would each be assigned a geographical area to patrol and secure.”

Todd beamed. “That’s exactly what we had in mind. However, we also wanted to clearly set our priorities for providing charity – with no strings attached – both to local residents and bands of legitimate refugees.”

“Agreed,” Dunlap said.

If only I could compress this wooden dialogue and extrude it into 2X6 forms, my worries about having enough material for the framing on The Secret Lair would be over.

Is it the plot? I don’t exactly know. I can’t really talk about the plot, because I barely detected one. There was a vast socioeconomic crisis followed by hyperinflation, the cities all burned themselves down, hundreds of millions of people died…but none of that is really in the story, except in extremely long reports given by various group members as they arrive at The Amazing Retreat and are debriefed. (Yes, debriefed.) There are encounters with looters and passers-by (I especially enjoyed the Communist cannibals), and then the region’s economy sorta gets back on its knees, using ammunition for currency (and as God is my witness, one detailed description of who bartered what for what goes on for several endless pages), and then there’s a war (With the UN, of course. Guess who wins.) and then…the end. None of it seems very important compared to lengthy descriptions of survivalism details. So I can’t really talk about the plot. Possibly it wasn’t important either.

Is it the situations that characters get themselves into? Well, they can certainly be entertaining…

The trooper put on a stern expression. “You know, about ten years ago some uppity militia-Sovereign-Citizen type like you with custom plates that said ‘Militia Chaplain’ tried to smart mouth the Ohio state patrol. He was saying the same sorta things you are, and he was packing a pistol. And they settled his hash, but good. The Federal Task Force boys showed us a training video on that incident. Did you hear about that one?”

“Yeah.”

The trooper tightened his grip on the Glock and thumbed off the retention strap with a loud pop. “Do you want the same thing to happen to you?”

Now Matt wasn’t just nervous. He was scared.

The trooper intoned with a practiced voice, “Your passenger can stay where he is. Will you please step out of the vehicle?”

“It’s not a ‘vehicle,’ and he’s not a ‘passenger.’ He’s my guest. I’m not getting out. You don’t have probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. You just want an excuse…”

“Get out, now!”

Matt obeyed the order. He was shaking. They walked in unison on either side of the van and met at the double rear doors. Matt asked, “Don’t you want to see these papers?”

“No. I want you to step back to my car. I’m going to search you for weapons first!”

Hearing the urgency in the trooper’s voice, the deputy jogged forward.

Matt replied, “I don’t want to be violated like this!” and took a step backward.

“You friggin’ sovereign-militia types are like peas in a pod. You quote two-hundred-year-old laws, and refuse to be ruled by those in authority over you. You’ve got no respect for legal statutory jurisdiction. The guys on the task force told me how to deal with you and your uppity attitudes. So you ‘don’t want to be violated.’ All right, son. Then I’ll just arrest you for not having a driver’s license, and then I’ll search you, and I’ll put you in jail, and I’ll impound your vehicle and its contents. How do you want to play it? You tell me.”

Matt stood his ground. The trooper snorted, and said in a demanding voice, “We have three options … Option one is I’m going to search your person to make sure you have no dangerous or deadly weapons. Odds are I’ll find something on you or in your van that could be construed as deadly. Then I’ll put you in jail. Option two is I can arrest you for not having a driver’s license. Then I can search you and I’ll put you in jail… Option three is if you continue to resist being searched, claiming your mythical ‘rights’ I’m going to ventilate you. Those are the options you have, son. Which would you like to exercise?” The trooper tucked his citation book under his arm and pulled the Glock from its holster.

I can’t stand to transcribe any more, suffice that the trooper does in fact begin unjustifiably firing at our hero (inaccurately, of course) two short paragraphs later. Now, I have no love for cops. I have had encounters with cops I found very, very short of heartwarming. But never in my wildest days have I had an encounter that went anything remotely like that one, and neither have you. But things like that happen all the time in this book. Did I mention I especially enjoyed the Communist cannibals? Not just regular cannibals, you understand; those are a dime a dozen. Genuine Maoist little-red-book-carrying Communists … who eat babies.

Now, I’ve read my share of bad fiction, same as you, and most of it just can’t be fixed. There really isn’t even any point in criticizing it, because … well, what can you say? “Your book sucks” just isn’t very constructive. And I realize that up till now I haven’t been a paragon of constructive criticism. But the truth is, about three-quarters of the way through I started wanting to like this book. And the reason for that is, I know just what I would have done to fix it.

Patriots‘ main problem is that it’s trying to be two mutually-exclusive things at once, and fouling them both up. It’s trying to be both a novel and a (very!) detailed survivalism manual, and I really don’t believe that can be done well. If Rawles had stuck to the manual (except for some very bad advice: His section on false ID is a fat forty years out of date, and his description of an off-the-grid electrical system is ridiculous) he’d have been all right: There’s some interesting stuff in there. If he had stuck to the novel … well, the spelling and grammar are quite good. But put them both together and you’ve got a train wreck. Still: I scanned a bunch of survivalist fora (which shows you the lengths I was willing to go to be fair) and the denizens of nearly every one of them love this book. They adore it; they practically revere it. And what they like is both the manual and the pure escapist fantasy of a bunch of survivalists getting it right and having been right all along.

And it occurred to me that, if Rawles were to take my advice (and after this post I don’t expect him to ever want to speak to me, let alone take advice) for the fifth iteration of Patriots he’d drop the pretense of a novel altogether and turn it into a sort of latter-day Whole Earth Catalog, complete with a sidebar running story of Stalwart Survivalists After The Apocalypse that runs section after section to keep people turning pages, reminiscent of Divine Right’s Trip. Rawles has done a lot of homework here, complete with name brands and proper models: It’d make a great catalog.

But it truly makes a lousy novel.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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5 Responses to Review of “Patriots,” by Rawles

  1. Radio Bloger says:

    I like you WANTED to like this book but, I did not even think it made a reasonable catalog or even as good to be labeled as lousy novel. I still lament I ever gave out a single penny for that stack of paper.

    I would never even call him a freedomista, his views in his book do not convince be he is anything other than a slightly less intrusive “divine right of kings” type. Take for instance the “squatters” that did not have clear title to land they had claimed after the fall must pay taxes or be removed – WTF taxes on land mean you DON’T own it!

    He laments “road blocks” of the unwashed masses of brigands but details how he unlawfully blocks clear public access roads to search and judge travelers – Pot kettle black.

    His description of the cop I agree is the ultimate in stupidity, most cops are not intelligent enough to remember the words “sovereign-militia types” preferring to just start tazering at first indication. The part where he cannot shoot worth a crap is true enough, there are more than enough films of police shoot outs to understand most cops couldn’t hit the side of a barn – FROM THE INSIDE!

    The stupid cannibal communists bit was directly borrowed and conglomerated from several novels, I think I could show paternity from Alas, Babylon, and The Turner Diaries directly. For crickets sake two homosexual communists who loot jewelry and eat babies – there has to be a joke in that or a sign of severe “problems” (I would expect the latter with reformed Calvinists).

    Of course Unintended Consequences, Lights Out, and Dies the Fire and almost al the others suffer from the typical “rainbow diversity” that is all liberal wet dream fantasy and required for publishing. Drivel that the “wannabe right” soak up like mothers milk – stupidity and all, it simply does not happen in the real world.

    As a catalog it is a complete failure with too many high priced yuppie survivalist toys and a clear indication that everything is in almost every category “single source” biased from the point, I got this thing (from an authoritarian “expert”) and it must be the best mentality. I shows a weakness in character and an unwillingness to be independent of thought and creative.

    Of course they had some “military super hero” who went to every “school” possible while “in” and that is the utmost in “military worshiping” stupidity.

    The strong string of heavy themed Calvinism made me sick to my stomach many times as of all the Christian denominations this one has to be the most vile, brainless, and historically evil, luckily it was almost squashed, to bad it was not eradicated. Truth is that the “good Christians” will start burning witches within two years of a total crash, this of course will piss off the neighbors who need workers and not corpses and start eradicating the trouble makers.

    If bullets fly as written in this book, losses from the “super fantasy compound” will be over 70%.

    The fact that it and Lights Out are so popular is testament to the depths of brainwashing and lack of education in this country.

  2. The Dog says:

    Yeah. Always wondered why Rawles didn’t just write a how-to guide. A novel is for telling a STORY, first, foremost, and even ONLY.

    Still, it’s fun watching you get snarky, Joel. Your writer-self rides a fine high horse. 🙂 Maybe before he does his fifth revision of Patriots, Rawles should read your “Walt’s Gulch” and “Songs of Bad Men and Good” to get an idea how a good freedom novel is done.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Joel, for saving me some FRNs and precious time.

    They say that the things that hurt you aren’t what you don’t know, but what you do know that isn’t so. I’ve dipped a digital toe into Rawles blog from time to time, but saw way too much that was so far out it wasn’t even wrong. It’s not worth arguing with such wildly misinformed folk, particularly since to do so is to question the infallibility of the cult leader.

    This man’s going to cause a lot a people a lot of grief if they are foolish enough to take his advice. He’s got good company, but he’s dangerous. Maybe you know him better than I do; I’m not so sure I would want him at my back in a tight spot.

    -S

  4. Jim says:

    If this were a strict How-To book, it’ll likely get banned. Some years ago Feinstein and some of her ilk have passed a law that is very, very anti-First Amendment, of both free speech and free press. A lot of publishers had to drop titles and likely take a loss.

    As for the book, I agree that it has a lot of problems, even though “they said” it a survival manual disguised as a novel. It may fail on both, it definitely failed as a novel with too many characters being flat.

    Although I will admit that there were some sections I enjoyed.

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To the stake with the heretic!