Friday, December 29, 2023

Metal by J. F. Lawrence - How Do We Survive Without Metals? - A Fantastic Apocalyptic Thriller!

“Do you know the cure for suffering?” she asked after laying down next to him, rolling onto her side to see him better. He took off his helmet and wiped his sweaty brow on his sleeve. “I’m sure you’re gonna tell me.”
She nudged him in his rusting arm. “Death.” He slow clapped. “Funny.” It would have been humorous if dying wasn’t so likely and narrowly escaped of late. 
So far, they’d survived three close encounters with death, fire, crash, and shotgun. The question was, how many more close calls would he get? Nine lives like a cat?

Such a load of BS. Some things were best left in the past, like today. He couldn’t resurrect the dead, so why should he resurrect his memories of them? Ueskev wouldn’t come back. The pilots sacrificed themselves, dead, irrevocably done and gone. The countless who burned in Portland wouldn’t rise again. “It’s all about the future,” he told himself. “About survival.”

“This is the universal law of man: blood spilled cries out for more.”

“Have you heard the phrase, ‘Two is one, and one is none?’ We need redundancy and a backup plan.” “Of course,” he said, “but, Nellibi is our number two.” “You are a survivor,” she said, something other than professional concern on her face. “I can’t say the same for them. You are the backup plan.” 

Relying on his sensitivity training as a professor, he said, “I respect your tactical perspective. Please respect my scientific viewpoint. It would take me a decade or more to replace either of them.” “Funny, Wall. You said it might take years for someone skilled anyway, so what’s the difference? And what if they aren’t resilient enough to survive the new world order? If they can’t survive, then all we have is you.” “They’re fine.” “For now.” 

“Then we agree to disagree.” She cracked her neck and sighed. “The damage is done. You might as well finish the job. Give her here.” She took one of the batteries. After connecting the new equipment, she gave him a thick strip of beef jerky as a peace offering. “The jerky gods are bountiful this day!” he said reverently, kissing it and holding it to the sky. Then he lifted her in a spinning hug and bounced up and down on one leg as she laughed. When he let her down, he swayed side to side, dizzy but still smiling. “Wall, regarding this jerky infatuation…the first step is admitting you have a problem.” He slid a sliver of salty heaven between his molars and gently mashed the gold standard of all food and moaned. “For some men, it’s liquor. For others, it’s gambling. Jerky is my vice of choice.” For the next half hour, he regaled her with all things jerky. “The food of the gods. Ambrosia. Love in food form.” He described how it was prepared, from cow to grocery store, and waxed on about his numerous experiences with making jerky in the backyard with his dad. He lamented that since he moved to Eugene, he had lived in a condo without a space to home smoke his own. “But,” he said happily. “Without refrigerators, smoked meats will make a return.” 

Substitute Jerky! 
On the other hand, later he trades bullets for meat patties!

“Hey!” someone yelled from somewhere behind the building. With terrifying speed, Plink ran toward the voice, her M4 rising on the way. “Hey, you up there!” “What’s up, Kayla?” Plink called down as she planted her foot on the short rim around the building, looking like a female Captain Morgan. The scientist still wore white coveralls, goggles, and mask, her head barely sticking out the back door. “Stop stomping around. It’s hard to concentrate.” “Come on up,” Plink said. “We have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.” “No,” the scientist said. “I drink soylent.” Plink looked at Wall, who shrugged and said, “It’s an efficiency thing.” “Coming down.” Plink waved him to follow before sliding down the vertical supports like a fireman on a double pole, but with disinfectant-laden rags in each hand to buffer the friction against the old and crusty iron. He, on the other hand, took the slow way down, prepared to be the bureaucratic translator between Kayla the lead scientist/engineer, and Plink the lead of all things deadly. It wasn’t a role he would have chosen, but it was the one he had to play. Down below, the only thing he could see about Kayla, who only stuck her goggles and nose through the door, was that her eyes were even more sunken and rimmed with darker circles. Plink offered her a water bottle, but the scientist shook her head. “I have a drinking tube.” The ultimate in efficiency, he thought. Plink held out a strip of jerky, only for Kayla to shudder. “I can’t eat that.” “Why not?” Plink asked. “I told you, ‘I only eat soylent.’” 

The Delta Force operator shrugged, “Nope. Not anymore, honey. You have a new diet. You eat what you can when you can.” “No,” Kayla yelped as if Plink drew a knife, retreating by a couple of inches. “I have enough soylent for a month.” He’d checked, and this wasn’t even close to true. Their virus expert was rationing too much, but Wall needed to build trust, so he didn’t press the issue. “Besides, my gut isn’t used to other food.” Plink shrugged again. “Suit yourself. You’ll run out eventually. Then your tune will change.” When Plink took a healthy bite of the jerky, Wall practically slobbered, then cheered up when she handed the rest to him. The two ladies watched him descend into euphoria. Plink turned back to Kayla and said, “So, Doc. What’s the good news?” “Good news?” she scoffed. He rephrased the question. “What results have you observed through experimentation since this morning?” Kayla’s eyes reflected joy, almost as reverent as Wall with jerky. “Towning’s work was impeccable, absolutely masterful.” Wall visualized the explosion that swallowed Towning’s house and basement lab, a trap meant for him, and barely withheld an outburst filled with the sentiment of all the curses in all the languages that ever existed throughout time. “Anything we don’t know?” Plink asked. Kayla squinted. “I presume you do not know–” She cut herself off. With the joy of jerky in his mouth, he took a different tact. “What observations suggest Towning’s level of skill?” “He interwove sections of DNA from each virus into the others, thereby minimizing competitive interactions. Of note, he subtly altered my HIV’s morphology for aerosol transmission.” While such a feat must have been insanely challenging, Wall didn’t like the admiration with which she spoke. He swallowed his distaste and interpreted for Plink. “She says the diseases work together and he gave wings to the HIV variant.” Kayla’s expression of adoration faded as she heard Wall’s simplification. “A crude and insufficient interpretation.” 

“What else have you learned?” Plink asked. As Kayla twisted her face as if physically wounded by Plink’s words, Wall interjected. “Have you observed any other aberrant deviations from the samples?” She whispered, “Towning removed my kill switch from his HIV strain. Further, he made the pathogens immune to my variant.” A series of curses flooded Wall’s mind. After an awkward pause, he asked, “Are you saying you can’t kill it?” “I can achieve the desired outcome. However, I require silence to concentrate, and it will take time.” “Get some shut-eye, Kayla,” Plink said. “You’ll feel better with–” The scientist drew her face back into the dark office, and the door closed behind her without so much as a wave. “Back up top, old man,” Plink said, shooing Wall to the ladder. He didn’t point out that they were probably about the same age. “You damaged my sleep by going off base, so I need to start over.” While she conked out, breathing easily as soon as her head met the rucksack. He considered doing some yoga, which reminded him of his ex-girlfriend, Talia, the one who cheated on him with another instructor. Instead, he sat on the cement block crown around the rooftop for a beat, dangling his feet over the front of the building. “Living on the edge,” he quietly sang in a bad approximation of Steven Tyler’s unique vocals. After his legs went numb, he leaned back on his backpack and watched the fog swirl, lift, then fall. It gave him time to ruminate on the past twenty-four hours. He didn’t think he was traumatized yet, but there was plenty to unpack, and there would be an abundance of time for the downfall to change that. Therapists, a breed that might go extinct, would have a field day helping unload his “emotional wounds.” The last twenty-four hours were like the worst stints in Ethiopia, a series of irrevocable consequences he needed to learn from. He regretted that some of his army buddies struggled with PTSD, and in most cases, strained themselves to adapt back to the “civilized” requirements of a peaceful society. Wall? Not so much. He considered himself lucky to transition back without suffering the way that all too many did. Things like starving kids and mass burial sites were enough to screw with anyone’s head, and he wasn’t immune to it, but he had a series of meaningful goals that saw him through. He could have given up after failing to adapt bacteria to consume landmines, but that mission transferred into a goal of healing the planet. Now, he had a different mission, to aid the healing of metal and man in any way he could.


Sometimes I get curious about the people I become acquainted with online... J. F. Lawrence was one I had met on "X" which, apparently,  found me finally after the turnover and realized that I was, normally, only talking about books... and reinstated my earlier account on Twitter. You know, I often wondered what that saying meant when they say, "You can't judge a book by its cover..." Well, the literal words are easy... but each of us has a book and I'm a reader. I learned a lot from books...and, sometimes, adapt my own life in even small ways, from what I read... Metal is one of those books...

When I consider the word metal, I think of cars, first, but once you start reading Metal, the full impact of our lives affected by it, will, perhaps, astound you!.

You know, folks, I had been staying away from reading apocalyptic novels for nearly a decade now, you know, around 2015 when I saw what was going on in America... But there are a number of references that might indicate that the time period is somewhat futuristic but that, we seem to be still dealing with the same problems of today. Bummer!

This was even better. A stupid leader was a unit’s most life-threatening attribute. The central guy yelled, “Come out! This is your reckoning day.” “He’s an idiot,” Plink whispered before she crawled like a giant spider on hands and toes to the back side of the building, gone to take care of Carlos and Mateo. Announcing himself was a strategic error, a great way to win the state championship contest for the Kazinski Award. The two roly-poly guys with the ARs backed up a pace, probably aware of their leader’s blunder. “They’re the smarter ones.” Watch out for them. Four quick pops, which carried the clack-thud of suppressed rounds, announced Carlos’s and Mateo’s ill-matched encounter with Plink. No yells or return fire ensued, a testament to Plink’s marksmanship. Kill shots. Out front, their leader reacted by pulling the triggers of his pistols with impacts climbing from the ground, up the building, and into the sky. Successive recoil in the hands of an untrained fool tended to raise each shot higher than the last. The guy would have been better served by holding one pistol with both hands and slowing himself down. All the same, Wall ducked behind the short ledge as a bullet whizzed just overhead, the classic high-pitch to low-pitch zeeoow caused by doppler shift as it passed. Shot at twice in one day and three times in twenty-four hours exceeded Wall’s quota by precisely three times. He had to wonder if there was something about him that attracted gunfire. When the pistol fire stopped, Wall pumped up his confidence by saying, “Now,” then propped himself on the short rampart and aimed his suppressed M4 at the leader. With as much self-control as he could muster, he let off two shots. The first bullet landed with that low thunk of a bullet on flesh. The second ricocheted off the pavement with a crack, a miss. He switched targets before seeing what happened to his first pin cushion and released another two rounds, forcing himself to pause longer between shots to recover from the recoil. The first shot battered the new target. A secondary boom synchronized with his follow-up shot, accompanied by a very close impact on the cinder blocks less than a meter away. With the speed of a groundhog, he retreated behind the safety of the roof’s crown. Someone shouted, “Run!” More rounds clapped, impacting randomly and flying wildly overhead, suppressive fire. The shots stopped, replaced by the patter of running feet. Wall popped back up with his rifle at the ready. Both of his previous targets laid on the ground, the leader rasping and writhing, holding his chest with shallow breaths. The other was still and silent. The last two men ran for the road. Wall aimed at the slow, portly guy, followed him with the scope’s red dot, and shot. The rotund thug stumbled as his shoulder lurched forward and screamed, “Puta!” Wall aimed at the fallen man, placing the crosshairs on his back, relaxed into the shot, and fired as he’d done so many times while hunting and practicing, earning the desired effect; the attacker stopped moving. The remaining runner vanished down the road behind the trees before Wall could take aim. “Gah!” he whisper-yelled, angry that he let one get away. No good could come of the guy escaping. He could come back after regrouping with a larger cohort of his gang and attack with overwhelming numbers, and if they went up in the chain of command, they might have intelligence and strategy on their side. Contrary to how people say time slows with hyper-focus in high-stress situations, this encounter sped by so quickly that Wall barely had time to register what happened, most of his response and thoughts coming as a result of training and instincts. The proof of the quick skirmish splayed out on the ground in the parking lot in the form of two men, one gasping for air, soon to die. He was strangely upbeat about the outcome. Any conflict you came out of alive was a good one. Not better than no fight at all, but a win nonetheless. At the front of the building, three down, two of which were kills, the last of which would die soon. He imagined Plink’s donations to the Grim Reaper out back. Five out of six dead, and no casualties on the side of Alpha Bravo. 

After the fact, he contemplated the deed of shooting a fleeing man in the back. Honorable men didn’t do such things, considered completely immoral by Americans. But, in the moment, he hadn’t cared a spark’s ass. These guys weren’t civilized men who came to engage in a lengthy and polite discourse about the finer details of dick size. They chose to walk into his domain, guns blazing, and threaten his lab. “Screw ‘em.” They no longer lived in a moral world. Anyone who judged him wouldn’t be worth their weight in rust during or after the fall... 

(Think January 6th!)

Lawrence puts his fantastically creative talents in providing some of the most incredible characters I've seen in both similar and other novels I read. Wall is and probably will be your favorite. I'll just say he gets his nickname honestly and leave it at that... Wall is a professor at a local university, but he is also a scientist who has conducted experiments until he has discovered something that is of value to a very rich man... Enter "alert" signals for me. I have, as many of you may have, been influenced greatly to beware of rich men--and what harm they can do...

See the key for this book is that we find a charismatic man who befriended Wall, encouraged a friendship and loyalty of supposed concerns, in this case, the environment, and provides support to Wall to work diligently for that "cause." Only to then have it backfire! Of course, I am sure you can guess that Wall was manipulated, lied to, and told a story for so long that he really believed what was stated was true... Sound familiar?

The goal was to create a process by which all of the junked cars, appliances, etc., would rust quickly so that landfills could be reclaimed, for instance... Instead, manipulation of the truth resulted in world-wide...rusting...of...all... metal!

We meet Wall as he is coming out of a large forest area where he has been vacationing as suggested by his new mentor. He has been gone for just two weeks, during which the whole world has been infected! He, of course, doesn't know anything about what has happened, even though he had noticed that his phone was giving him trouble...

At that point we meet my other two favorite characters, one of which is a female "badass" of a superwoman. No, she's not a fictional character like those in graphic novels... She's in Delta Force and leads the team who was sent out to find the professor! I could start telling you about her, but you wouldn't believe me. Yes, she's that special a character and Wall likes...her...a...lot! In the meantime, Rhino is one of her team, who sticks with the trio after the initial hunt is over. Rhino is special for his memory. Ask him anything and he will not only answer but give the history of it! He's fun, sure of himself, even with a macho female leader...and cool enough to be willing to tell Wall that he needs to improve his shooting skills!

On the other hand, Wall calls many of the others in the book he meets "zombies." Even though, apparently, the time period is beyond the point where zombie apocalypse was just one of the movies featuring that brand of human... LOL

Rolling on his side, Wall couldn’t believe his turn of luck. He was practically underneath a classic VW bus covered by a canvas tarp. The orange and white siding was barely visible in the dark. He awkwardly gained his feet, turned on the M4’s light, and pulled the car cover off. Working out the kinks in his body, he walked around the old-school minibus. If not for the state of his leg and head, he would have done his happy dance. It hadn’t been infected yet. “Thank you, universe.” Adding to his excitement, he didn’t have to learn how to pick the lock. The door swung open with a loud creak, but then the nasty smell inside made him wince. Someone tried to mask the scent of rot with incense, patchouli, and the skunk-like stench of marijuana. He flipped the driver’s side visor down in hopes of finding a key. “Nobody’s that lucky.” Having no idea what he was doing, he hopped out and looked under the driver’s column, wishing he’d watched an instructional video on how to hotwire a car. “It can’t be that hard, can it?” he asked, craning his neck. “Holy!” Someone already hotwired it. Holding his breath, he connected the two red wires that hung loose, and the little bus chugged to life with an extra few clicks and a whine from a dying alternator or battery. At full blast, Willy Nelson sang “On the Road Again,” which nearly scared the piss out of him. Wall cranked the volume dial to no avail. Willy belted out in his uniquely chill voice. “Goin' places that I've never been…” He tried to eject the tape cassette. No good. “…get on the road again…” “Damn.” Sure that he drew attention, either from the owners of the house or someone outside, he sprang out of the VW, hopped to the old garage door, and heaved it open. Just as quickly, he hopped back into the driver’s seat and slammed it into gear. In junior high and high school, he hated the manual transmission tractors on his dad’s farm. He used to wish that Mister Mathison floated the cost of a new automatic transmission, to which his dad always said, “If it ain’t dead, why put it out to pasture?” Now, he appreciated the dying skill. The old thing stuttered forward with a dozen putts and gasps, then bucked and revved its way up the steep driveway. “On the road again!” he belted out with Willy. It was like the VW had called to him in his time of need. The road was completely blocked to the south, so he turned north. A few seconds later, the old gal bobbed down the road through the park. Afraid to abuse her too much and preserve the nearly empty fuel tank, he kept it in first and second gear. Without Plink’s ability to drag race a vintage vehicle, winding around abandoned cars was slow going, nearly flipping him down the slope on his left. When he reached the larger road of Cheshire Avenue, having driven on the walkway for the last hundred meters, Wall cursed. The way to the west was completely blocked off. On the other side of the road, all varieties of tents and lean-tos filled the dead-grass field. Hundreds of homeless, some new and some old, counted this area as their new landing pad. The orange slug drew all of their attention as one, reminiscent of a zombie hoard, hungry and slow-moving. Panicked, he hit the gas and weaved east between abandoned cars in his best approximation of Plink. In a game of one-sided chicken, he nearly hit a desperate soccer mom with three little ones following her. A man in a business suit managed to chase him down but misjudged the speed and bounced off like a rubber ball. As Wall jumped the curb, something or someone shrieked behind him. Drawn to the sound, he looked into the rear-view mirror. Completely distracted, he ground the right side of the bus against a rock retaining wall, which bumped the orange machine into a glancing blow with an SUV, knocking the left-side mirror off. A shrill noise from the back pierced his ears with every bump. Having outpaced the hoard, he slowed up, worried that the antique bus might fall apart. Then, he cursed as he drove into another clearing with an even larger crowd of rust zombies. Gunning it into third gear, he sped down the walking path, running over the corner of a tent and glancingly hitting a twenty-something runner who attempted to block his way. “Get out of the way!” he screamed a second too late. “Damn. Never bring a body to a car fight.” With so many cars clogging the road and desperate masses blocking his way along the path, he set off through the grass field on the south side, weaving between tents and all sorts of trash. He knocked off the passenger’s side mirror on a big yellow Bronco, an SUV that he secretly loved despite its horrible gas milage, an environmental nightmare. He bounced off the curb into a parking lot that dumped him onto a road, and that road let out into the street next to the Goburg Road Bridge. He’d come full circle when he nearly hit the mound of corpses next to the blue “W” he saw with Emma. Preferring the mostly empty bike paths to the backed-up roads, he swerved left downhill. The brakes protested as he pulled the wheel east under the main bridge with the fastest of the rust zombies still chasing him. Then, the entrance to the walking bridge came into view overhead. He cranked the wheel hard while keeping up the leaning bus’s speed and sputtered uphill to the entrance of the footbridge. The bus started to wobble as it rounded the last curve before lining up for a clear shot over the Willamette. Ahead, a pair of shotgun-wielding guys dressed in black blocked the onramp. Wall leaned down toward the passenger’s seat while one of them shot, shattering his windshield. The terrified wailing from the back seat took on a new pitch. The bridge keeper on the left bounced off the rounded corner of the bus. Then Wall was past them, flinching as he scraped the bus on the bridge’s corroded handrail, unable to control the wobbling wheels. The VW crashed into the right suspension cables, where it slid into a precarious tilt...


Oh, yeah, there's one other character I quickly became attached to... She's a 13-year-old "woman" who grew up fast in the foster system, living on the road and now refuses to share any of it...but, almost immediately, reminded me of Plink... Plink, by the way, is the name used by that Delta Force team leader, who almost immediately began to practice various martial arts with her new, but much younger partner!

This is not an easy book to read, even though you will find it fast-paced, as the writer promised. Think slasher movies, but somehow soon it is the entire world that is affected, it's more real. You see, one metal, steel, for instance, as well as others, are part of most of our living facilities. All of them are almost completely destroyed and those that aren't, could fail just at the point when you are climbing the steps...

Oh, and one other thing, think Covid Regs! If you didn't follow the regulations created for our own good and follow them, like I did, well you may already be dead...and surely will be during the rust rush, because you will soon be dead from starvation, killed by a building or your car falling apart... well you get the idea...

Wall talks about it a lot! He's been losing time because of a concussion which has not gone away, so he is forever wiping anything and everything that has been potentially infected--especially from blood which is really bad...

So, here's the situation. there are only two scientists that have been found to work to try to correct what has happened. One was traumatized when her wife was killed and the other is a nerd with some crazy nutritional issues. Which, by the way, for you meat eaters, apparently it is at a time when killing animals is considered...murder... 

So, what would you be doing in a crisis that is far worse than Covid... In fact there are a number of different diseases that have been pulled together into this latest catastrophe created by a rich and famous man out to rule the world as he wants...

Seriously, this book is outstanding, close enough to possible reality to make it more scary than a slasher movie, yet so character-driven that readers will wind up on the edge of our seats, wondering what will happen next and will it make a small leap forward? Or, is it already too late? I'll tell you one thing, this book got me so involved I've "almost" stopped worrying about what is presently happening in today's world! Kudos to the author for a fantastic, though not easily readable apocalyptic masterpiece!


And the real world is scarier than any movie. People actually did those things.”

 “Why? What’s wrong now?” “Nothing yet,” she reassured him. “We need redundancy. Two is one. One is none. Standard operating procedure.”

 “Humanity is not for the likes of us. We are the uncivilized instruments of a civilized society, not members of it. It has always been so for warriors.” Now it was his turn to say, “Yet…” She smiled with tears on her lashes. “As the blade and bullet, we are responsible for safeguarding those who will herald tomorrow.”

He’d take an astute smart-ass over an ignorant dumbass any day.

A Final Note:

Some books write their own reviews--this is one of them... The story came easily to share and the tiny gems of wisdom were to important not to include as more quotes than normal... That's all thanks to this extraordinary author, J. F. Lawrence

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