Non-Fiction About Fiction, by Robert H. in Alabama

Back when I thought the world was perfect and would go on in its present state forever, I was an avid reader of fiction novels. I still am. From reading the Hardy Boys mysteries as a kid to the works of Stephen King and Tom Clancy as an adult, I have always loved to read. In fact, I give credit to this love of reading as the single factor in what will probably save my life one day. If I had not been totally hooked on reading great stories and hadn’t curved my reading interest towards post-apocalyptic types of books (Stephen King’s “The Stand” got me started in that direction), I would probably not have gotten started in my survivalist activities. One book led to another and to another and after a path of hundreds of books that led me to reading “Patriots” and “One Second After”, my course was set. A prepper was born.

Now, this article is neither to sing the praises of any single novel nor to tell my story on how I came to believe what I now believe today. It is strictly designed to talk about the incredible importance of fiction novels to the modern day survivalist or prepper.

As I go through my day to day journey getting ready for some interesting times to come, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity, through my job, to talk to lots of people. I have met several “Like Minded” people in my journey, and the conversation subject generally turns to what we are each doing to prepare. I love to discuss this subject with others and enjoy having them try to throw monkey wrenches in my plans as I try to throw the same wicked tool at theirs. This helps us look at scenarios we might not have thought of and make the appropriate changes or additions to our plans or materials. The main objective of preparation is to have plans and materials available for an unknown situation or series of events. This can, and usually is, a major undertaking. Having someone throw different “what ifs” at you helps you improve those plans and lists of materials.
As these conversations took place, I noticed that I was very good at throwing curve balls at people’s plans that they had not previously thought of and I really didn’t understand why. One day, a friend of mine asked me why I always seemed to be able to throw a scenario at him that he hadn’t previously thought of and it finally dawned on me why that was so. It was because of the massive number of fiction novels I had and continue to read. Most survivalist and preppers can read you off a long list of non-fiction books they have read and collected. Everything from urban combat manuals to food preservation books seems to be a staple for the modern day survivalist. While they recite this list of non-fiction books they own, I rarely hear them mention books like Patriots, Lights Out , Lucifer’s Hammer, and One Second After.

They can tell me about the struggle they had reading a book, cover to cover, about canning vegetables but they never mention the wonderful (and educational) hours spent reading “One Second After”, a great work of fiction. Or, maybe they read one or two novels and that got them interested in this movement but after that, it was strictly non-fiction from then on. That is a mistake I am afraid many people are making.

While I am by no means undercutting the importance of non-fiction books, I am simply stating that the importance of fiction novels of pre and post society collapse is typically being forgotten. I believe many preppers get so caught up in reading the non-fiction works to gain the knowledge that they lack that they somehow miss the fact that a good work of fiction will take that knowledge and let the characters show how and when they used it. In other words, it takes the knowledge from the non-fiction and puts it in a storyline that is easy to absorb, wonderful to follow and hard to put down.

I have read some incredible works of fiction that told the stories of groups of survivors after a society collapse. These stories kept me totally captivated as I followed them through their failures and their triumphs. Each of these novels allowed me to learn the same lessons the book’s characters learned without having to actually experience the hardships they went through. Each author created scenarios for his or her characters to go through that gave me an insight as to how the non-fiction knowledge they acquired worked out. Yes, I have read some bad novels right along with the greats, but I can honestly say that I have never read a single work of post-apocalyptic fiction that I did not at least learn something from. I have always managed to take some tidbit of information away that I could use to either modify a plan or a list of materials. The good novels may actually cause you to make several changes as you see what did and did not work for the book’s characters. This is because while we may think of ourselves as awesome preppers, having thought of everything, there is no way we have actually thought of everything. Reading these novels gives us the insight of not only the author’s education but also each character’s. As someone who has done some writing, I know that when writing, a story can take on a mind of its own and when the author suddenly sees his characters in a situation he actually hadn’t thought they would end up in, he or she has to stop typing and go do some additional research on how to get them out of it. This increases his knowledge, while he increases his character’s knowledge, thus increasing your knowledge through reading it.

For example, I had always thought my preparedness plan was pretty good. While I have still not acquired everything that is on my list, I felt pretty good about what was on the list. Then I read a novel about a group of survivors that had to deal with a member of their group suffering from some problems with a mental illness. While this illness was temporary and due to PTSD, it still posed some problems and challenges for the group. They needed to restrain this person to keep them from hurting themselves and others but all they had available was rope. This caused some abrasion problems that led to other medical problems due to the lack of medical care and a clean environment. What the main character wished he had added to their stockpile was a couple of sets of handcuffs. After reading that, guess what I added to my list? That’s right, a set of handcuffs! I do believe that a big part of preparing for an uncertain future involves thinking about the mental state you or others may or may not be in during times like that. The best way I have found to examine these different mental states (without actually creating a scenario to cause them which my wife forbids) is in these works of fiction. You get to live the life of the characters, go through what they are going through, and ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation.

This article may seem like I am putting a higher importance on fiction than I am non-fiction but that isn’t the case. We all need more knowledge than we have and non-fiction books are that source. However, a good work of fiction can point you towards the right non-fiction book to read by showing you areas you are weak in as you follow the trials and tribulations of the book’s characters. Several of the “How-to” books I own came as a direct result of being shown an area in a novel that I was unfamiliar with and learned from the character’s problems that I had better get familiar with it.

If you have never been a reader of novels, you may be asking yourself what novels you should read. In my experience, most preppers have a general opinion on what will be the catalyst of society’s downfall. Things like nuclear war, plague, famine, economical and natural disaster are just some examples of what people are preparing for and while they believe strongly in one of those events taking place, they still tend to do a little “Side Prepping” into one of the other scenarios. For example, someone who strongly believes that an asteroid is going to be our end may still keep a few surgical masks and gas masks in their stockpile just in case it turns out to be plague. Someone who believes a massive case of the flu will bring us down may still do some financial preps in case it turns out to be an economical collapse. I tell you that to tell you this. Don’t limit your fiction reading to only those books whose storyline follows your belief. Personally, I am a follower of the economical crisis leading to a long-term grid collapse theory. While that is a strong belief for me, I still took away many “tips and tricks” from the novel Lucifer’s Hammer which dealt with an asteroid strike. While books that have storylines dealing with the effects of an EMP did not exactly follow my belief in what will happen, the trials and triumphs the characters went through were similar to what I think will happen. In other words, I learned a lot from books like “One Second After” even though my thoughts are more in line with books like Patriots. You can learn something from everything so read it all! This web site has a great list of novels that will give you a great place to start. Will you think every book is great? No. Of course not. Will you learn something from every book you read? Well, that is strictly up to you. Keep a notepad and pen alongside your book and make notes when you run across something you haven’t thought of before. I promise you that you will make some notes and may be very glad you did one day.

As a final note, I want to add that a good novel has one more very valuable attribute. All of us have friends and family that we would like to see become more in line with our way of thinking. I have converted more friends to the prepper way of life by handing them my copy of “Lights Out” to read than I have by giving them my copy of “Emergency Food Storage & Survival Handbook”. Before one’s mind can be converted to a survivalist’s mindset, they have to be able to imagine a future where that will be needed. Nothing stokes the fire of the imagination like a good novel.

Read on, my friends, and keep on learning.