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Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: Odd Billy Todd by N.C. Reed

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A potential apocalyptic event is a common topic among my friends. What would cause it and what would we do in such a scenario can easily take up hours of conversation. As well as what kind of preparations we might make in reality and what is reasonable to actually do today based on the fact that it is an extremely unlikely thing to happen. This year has been no exception and with the rise of COVID and now, with the recent fires and terrible air quality the idea of survival preparedness is maybe not so far fetched. A few months ago my friend could not stop talking about Odd Billy Todd and so when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy, borrowed from my brother, I went into it with heightened anticipation.  

Billy Todd wakes up one day to find that a plague has wiped out 95 percent of the world's population in the span of about a week leaving him all alone in his small rural home town of Cedar Bend, Tennessee. He is uniquely capable of dealing with this situation as his family owns a farm near the town that is self-sustaining and Billy's parents taught him how to deal with life in such a way that would allow him to survive almost any scenario. His parents had died sometime before the plague but not before teaching him how to think like a conscientious and moral person. Billy's oddness only manifests itself in a few negative ways throughout the book but seems to really manifest itself as his odd way of knowing how to think ahead, plan things out and shoot better than almost anyone. He is a kind of Aspergian country hero. 

Soon enough he finds that there are other survivors including a woman who has had a crush on him since high school and his neighbors who have a farm nearby. Seemingly unfazed by their new circumstances Billy and the others work diligently to secure resources and plan for the coming desolation of post-apocalyptic life. With solar power, cows, pigs, and lots of guns they make their way through well enough on their own until they find that there is a nearby settlement where they can trade goods and socialize with other survivors. It is on the road to this place that we first meet the dark side of humanity as road pirates attempt to steal from them. This is also when we find out the Odd Billy Todd does not suffer dangerous fools. 

They meet up with others at the settlement and find some folks that they think might want to come back and live on what later is known as the Farms. People with skills and attitudes that cooperate and complement the others are brought in and soon the Farms become a small community. As this is happening Billy finds out that there are additional threats including a group that has taken over a train that is ransacking and killing those along the tracks it travels. Billy and the others work to prepare themselves for both the natural elements and human elements that threaten their lives. They raid nearby towns often in order to find supplies and food and this is where they end up meeting with both potential friends and certain foes. Foes are met with swift justice and friends are allowed to live at the Farms as long as they are willing to work and cooperate. 

All in all, this was a fun book to read. I enjoyed the attempt at taking the ideas of survival preparedness and other post-apocalyptic themes seriously and the way the author does not go the route of psychological drama or relationship melodrama as some of these types of stories do. Not that those are bad but this book is doing something different. It is like a fictional exercise in real-world considerations taken at face value. There are not a lot of metaphorical or abstract language here and everyone in it has their role to play. There are good guys and bad guys and that's about it. 

The author obviously knows quite a lot about the nuts and bolts of what he writes about as the details regarding the tools, engineering, weapons, and survival aspects are specific and deep. The vast majority of the book is about the somewhat mundane day to day life of people who have to fend for themselves. Fuel, clothing, food, and all other manners of day to day considerations are addressed and at times the story got a little repetitive if not boring. This is compared to the much more exciting and interesting parts that involve action and violence as Billy and his group protects themselves from those that would take from them what they worked hard to acquire. 

If you like guns and military strategy this book has a lot of fun post-apocalyptic style scenarios to enjoy. Unfortunately, the bad guys are not particularly well developed and the good guys are so superior that the stakes are not that high and there isn't a lot of nuance in the plot. The book is independently produced and this is the first book by the author so there is something to be desired in regards to editing and the writing can be a little clunky at times. This took me out of the story periodically but not enough to ruin the experience. The writing is straightforward but not boring or lacking in creativity. The book obviously holds traditional values such as hard work, self-reliance, swift justice for the wicked, and other conservative and somewhat Christian in nature as virtuous. This makes sense given its protagonists and setting and isn't preachy at all. Just some good ol'fashioned redneck fun. 

In conclusion, it is a little long in my opinion, and could have used some additional revisions and editing to polish it up. The addition of a well developed bad guy, as well as a more obvious reason to call Billy Odd, would have added a lot to the dynamics in my opinion but as an amateur writer, I appreciate this book for its rawness. I'm glad I read it and it will certainly spark more conversations among my friends.

Check out these other reviews for books about the end of the world:

Book Review: The World Carried On by Channing Cornwall

Book Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy