Review of Fallout by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 4.5 stars

When NASA Robotics Engineer Derek Marshall hears that a tropical storm is headed his way, he decides to ride out the storm at home.  After all, living in Texas’ Gulf Coast he had been through plenty of storms, what was one more?  Then the storm strengthened again and again, until Hurricane Elsa roared ashore as a Category 4, decimating everything in her path, including Derek’s neighborhood.   Derek has just rescued an abandoned dog left behind in a house on his street when he gets a call from his boss telling him that his skills and special robot are needed now at a damaged nuclear  reactor to help contain the situation.  One helicopter ride later and Derek, Fido and Number Five, his robot, are deposited in front of Dr. Sambit Patel, professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A& M. Dr. Sambit has had his services volunteered by the university in hopes he can help cool the reactors.

Sambit Patel is astonished to see a grubby jeans clad man with a dog trotting beside him hand over some suitcases and prepare to go inside the power plant. Sambit’s attempts to stop him from bringing the dog inside end in a argument as weary stressed out Derek comes up against reserved, quiet Sambit.  Adding additional fuel to the instant antagonism is the fact that Dereck is out, proud and in your face gay while Sambit is reserved and closeted about his sexuality.

But the dangers of radiation poisoning, isolation and poor living conditions start to bring the men together. Derek finds that the more he listens and works with Sambit, the more he appreciates his quiet introspective ways, intelligent mind and  subtle beauty of his Indian physique. Sambit learns that the prickly, obnoxious front Derek presents to the world is a barrier that hides a sensitive, hurt soul. Plus he doesn’t miss the fact that Derek is gorgeous to look at either. Each man has a past that is holding them back from a closer relationship. And time is against them as they race against the clock and lack of information to cool down the reactor and keep the plant from having a nuclear meltdown.

Fallout spoke to me on so many levels not the least of which is the unexpected plot which revolves around a nuclear accident brought on by a hurricane.  Ariel Tachna dedicated this novel to ” the heroes of Fukushima Dai-ichi, whose willingness to risk their lives to save others inspired this novel”, so it is clear who and what prompted the storyline for this novel.  Natural disasters and nuclear power plants has been a hot topic in the news and rightly so given the extreme weather patterns we are now seeing.  I myself sit 1 1/2 hours from the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Maryland and the protests in Japan are on the rise as their reactors come back on line. The relevance of this storyline is all around us.

How real does the nuclear disaster feel?  Unbelievably so. I was glued to the book wondering where and how far Tachna was going with the meltdown. I don’t know where Ariel Tachna got her information about the inner workings of a nuclear power plant, the technical jargon, and the emergency repairs necessary to cool the rods but I felt as though I was getting insider information at all times.  As Sambit and Derek maneuver the robot Number Five through debris strewn corridors, taking radiation readings as they calculate the quickest way to get coolant into the reactor without plant maps or detailed plant malfunctions, I never once doubted the authenticity of the information the author was giving us. In fact I began to wonder when and in what capacity she had worked in the nuclear field.  Most of the time I felt like I was an interloper looking over the shoulders of the men as they scrambled to find the solutions they desperately needed before the power plant, themselves and all of Bay City became another statistic like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  You do not have to be a science geek to appreciate the drama and the technology that goes into this part of the story, all you need is your imagination and a reminder of the pictures we saw transmitted from Japan to feel the impact of each and every scene.

The second element of the novel that drew me in was the multicultural romance between Derek Marshall and Sambit Patel.   The author’s  close connections to India and its people comes alive through the character of Sambit Patel. The more we learn about Sambit the better we understand him and eventually come to love him as we do Derek. Tachna uses his thoughts and actions to acquaint the reader with some Indian customs,  dress, cultural beliefs and even native cuisine such as sambar. We learn about Sambit’s past which had made him think that most relationships will not work out for him, his daily use of Yoga to relieve his stress that started in his youth, and where his reticence about his homosexuality stems from.  The character of Sambit Patel could have easily been white but we would have been missing out had that been the case, and this book much less rich in flavor and dimension.  I cannot stress how much I loved this part of the story and the character Sambit Patel.

Derek Marshall is also a wonderful creation.  There are so many layers to his emotional makeup, including a horrific incident from his high school days that has shaped his outlook and his approach to society in general.  Brilliant, abrasive, he strikes out before someone can hit him, yet he is also reflective, sensitive and more willing to take chances than the reserved Patel.  He is full of dichotomies and that both appeals to and repeals Sambit.  It is a delicate dance they engage in as their close proximity and 24/7 work hours starts to bring them to an understanding and acceptance of each other’s nature that changes into appreciation and need.  And all the while, they never lose sight of the reason they are both there, that their individual talents need to mesh to help bring the power plant under control.  It may be crazy but in many ways this is a rushed slow relationship built under pressure that exposes the best of both men to each other.

The rest of the story takes place with Derek once more at home having to deal with boredom and the ravaged remains of his neighborhood and infrastructure while Sambit has stayed behind, a choice made by a homophobic bureaucrat in charge of the recovery operations.  We see Derek’s neighborhood start to clean up after the hurricane as he worries about the radiation levels Sambit and the others left behind are encountering. And as Sambit deals with the loss of Derek after his continual presence, we learn about Sambit’s insecurities and the past history that threatens the fragile foundation of their relationship. Again, Ariel Tachna’s description of how these men build their relationship, the barriers they have to overcome within themselves is as real as the natural disaster that brings them together.

If I had any quibble with this story, then I believe Derek answered it himself.  Number Five is a robot that has a special place in Derek’s heart. The name comes from the movie Short Circuit which I loved. He hoped to patent it and has kept it close to him all this time. And part of me wondered how Derek felt about leaving it behind. But then Derek himself answered that he builds robots for space and came to terms with the fact that they would never come back at the beginning of his career.  Plus Number Five was helping Sambit stay alive and healthy which would have been number one priority with Derek.  So that quibble wobbled and vanished.  There is no angst here but the story of a real,wonderful relationship between two men caught up in a natural disaster. This is an outstanding story that should not be missed.

Cover.  This cover by Shobana Appavu is easily one of my favorite.  Dramatic, beautiful and intense.  Great job.

Review of All The Kings Men by R.J. Scott

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Review written for JoyfullyJay blog on 3/24/2012

Rating: 4 stars

Review of All the King’s Men by R. J. Scott

When Nathan Richardson and his boyfriend, Ryan Ortiz, broke up over Ryan’s cheating, Nathan headed for LA to pursue his acting career.  But all those miles between them didn’t stop their love or need for each other.  Months later, Ryan is heading for Los Angeles, determined to reunite with Nathan, beg his forgiveness, and hope that love will bring him home.  But Nature throws the biggest obstacle of all in their path, when the doomsday earthquake hits southern California.  Now LA is destroyed, Nathan is trapped under the rubble and Ryan is his only hope.

I liked the characters of Nathan and Ryan although they did not seem to have the usual amount of layers to them that I have come to expect of R. J. Scott.  Ryan’s insecurity that led to his infidelity never felt particularly real, in fact of the two main characters, he is the least fleshed out.  Nathan on the other hand, with his impetuous flight to California, and then his regret over ending his relationship, seems credibly young in outlook and emotions.  It is RJ Scott’s vivid descriptions of the destruction of Los Angeles, the fires, the carnage that make this book come to life.  The shear desperation that comes from the inability to get to a road, use a cell phone, and even finding a method of transportation when all is collapsing around you rises up from each and every page as Ryan struggles with the new harsh reality of the earthquake and its aftershocks.  The author skillfully pulls you along with Ryan up the hills above LA, now burning with wildfires.  All the angst and heartbreaking moments that occur during that climb will stay with you and remind you of similar scenes on the screen during any natural disaster.  Nathan, trapped under the rubble of his building, alone with his fears and pain, brings the plight of the disaster victim home, the reader empathizing with him in the dark wondering if anyone will come.

In many ways this story is also a cautionary tale of how easily the infrastructure we all depend upon can crumble.  While it is clear that RJ Scott has done her research, it is a credit to her that it never feels that way, from the National Guard to the makeshift mobile medical tents, all beautifully rendered in every detail. The true main character here is not Ryan or Nathan, it is the earthquake and the destructive power of Nature.  It will leave the greatest impact upon the reader.

If you are wondering why this book did not get a higher rating with all I have said about it above, it comes down to two things, one minor and one huge.  The prologue and the epilogue to be exact.  The Prologue is short and gives us information that most of us already know, that California is prone to earthquakes and that the biggest is yet to come.  This is all general knowledge, but ok, just a minor quibble.  But oh, that Epilogue. That’s simply not needed, and to be it bluntly kind of cheesy.  And not in a good way cheesy.  I mean cheesy in the way they tacked on endings to the disaster films of the 70’s and 80’s way.  As the last credits rolled, pictures popped up of the survivors along with a couple of lines of text, telling us what happened to them.  You know what I mean,  something like  ” Little Sally, cute child, lived to become a famous Astronaut/Brain Surgeon,  likable Granny lived to a ripe old age of 100.  Peter Everyman died in a car accident a year after fill in the blank happened.”  I believe the SyFy channel is still carrying on this proud tradition in its over the top “cheesy in a good way” movies.  That I applaud while this appalled.  I would not have minded if it stated that Ryan and Nathan moved where ever but it gave too much information about them and everyone else, more than I needed or wanted to know.  But the worst was to come.  That would be the ridiculous future of Los Angeles laid out here.  It looked at though it was a outline for a book she meant to write but then threw it in a part of the epilogue.  It had nothing to do with Nathan and Ryan, more like History of LA, part Deau.  In fact, that almost brought the rating down to a 3 I disliked it that much.  But if you discard the prologue, ditch the epilogue, then you have a great tale.  So yes, read this, but like an Oreo cookie, start with the Middle, then the prologue if you have too and give the end away.  Really, you don’t need it! Trust me.

Cover:  I liked the cover with the flames and helicopter but wonder at the pictures of the naked guys.  Did they lose their clothes in the fire?  Because as both protagonists were so badly injured for the entire book, sex was the last thing on their minds. *Head desk*.  Half a great cover.