I first met Bruce and learned about his writing at the Buffalo County Fair a few years ago while he was manning a table with the Central Nebraska Writers Guild. After visiting with him for a few minutes, I knew I had to read his Dust & Cannibals novel. He described it as a post apocalyptic cowboy/Sci-Fi mashup that takes place in and around Harlan County, Nebraska. Since reading that first novel, Bruce and I have become friends and I await every installment of the series with great eagerness. I finished reading Fog & Fate and am all the more chomping at the bit to read the next book which is promised to be released soon.
The Dust & Cannibals series opens somewhat innocently enough with a single rider headed into the town of Alma, the county seat of Harlan County (or simply Harlan as it is known to the people there). This rider, a man named Lyle Lillard happens to be on a “green-broke” horse with a saddle that is too small. When he is about halfway to his destination, he is set upon by a large group of people who are intending to have him for dinner, but not as a guest, but rather as the main course! It is only thanks to his horse being spooked that he escapes. As the story unfolds, we learn that a series of disasters, both natural and man-made, have made the world into a place where chaos is the rule rather than the exception. Those that have survived the disasters find themselves in a position in which only the fittest will continue to survive.
Fog & Fate moves forward with an imminent threat from the a large group of terrorists to the south near Colorado Springs. It is not known what capabilities the terrorists have to wage war against Harlan, but the possibility of a nuclear threat is a real concern. It is determined that a small group from Harlan needs to go on a recon mission to determine what numbers and capabilities they are facing. It would seem that the terrorists really don’t have anything against the people of Harlan, that is, other than a difference of philosophical points of view. Actually, they are determined to kill all the men and enslave the women for nefarious purposes. An altogether unacceptable situation for the citizens of Harlan.
It is soon determined that there are far too many terrorists to fight and that mass relocation is necessary for continued survival. When the idea of using the existing railway system and steam engines comes up, preparations are made to leave. But where can they go? There are so many places that are unsafe either because of the terrorists reach, or the climate conditions, the choices are very limited. While things are looking grave for the people of Harlan, there is still hope and determination driving them forward.
Each book of the Dust & Cannibals series focuses on a different character. This installment takes a close look on Josh Morgan, a former soldier who survived the war in Afghanistan and made his way back the the U.S. on an aircraft carrier. He, along with his friend, Mark Tahner, made their way across the country on foot. Upon arrival in Harlan, Josh and Mark’s skills came in very handy and they were readily accepted into the fold. Josh is a likable character who is not too outspoken and willing to take orders. He and his wife, Alicia are expecting one of the first babies to be born after the threat of the devastating Omega Dust (a weapon of mass destruction) has passed.
Josh is sent to command a mission to reconnoiter the terrorists in Colorado. During this mission, we find that Josh is not a strong commander, but he shows great personal growth after the birth of Baby Grace. From then on, the people of Harlan find that they can depend on him to get the jobs done and that he does a fairly good job of assessing a situation and solves problems. There is only one situation that he finds himself in where his soldier’s sense fails him and he gets pinned down during a firefight.
Bruce really ramps up the action in Fog & Fate with several firefights of varying size. This action tends to drive home the point that things are very tense for the people of Harlan. Some of that tension is very palpable when Josh’s wife, Alicia stands outside of the Lillard home with an automatic weapon gunning down attacking terrorists en masse. There are many other smaller scale skirmishes along the way, and the descriptions of those are also charged with the same sense of tension; as I read, I felt a true sense of relief that the situation had been resolved. The apprehension of what might happen next always hung in the air and there are many surprises along the way.
As each novel is released, there is more and more territory revealed and the conditions therein. Fog & Fate ranges from Cheyenne, Wyoming to the west to near Omaha, and south to Colorado Springs. All along the way, Bruce gives us a picture of devastation that evoked some sad feelings for me since the story is set so close to home. In other words, he is doing what a great author should do by making the reader feel what one should.
As it is throughout the series, the theme in Fog and Fate is survival. The people of Harlan are being targeted by the terrorists and decide that they have to leave the area, especially in light of a possible nuclear threat. There are many things to consider when outfitting the trains they will use as their transportation, as well as their homes away from home. First they have to make sure that everyone has plenty of food and water, then there are the horses they will continue to depend upon that also need to be fed. While the trip will not be the most comfortable, many considerations are given to make things as pleasant as possible. The people of Harlan will only survive as long as they work together and stay focused on their goal.
While I have enjoyed every novel in the Dust & Cannibals series, this one is my favorite so far because of the author’s brilliant world-building and character development. He has really made me care about what happens to the people of Harlan. Add to that, Bruce’s style of storytelling that is quite non-formulaic allowing for surprises along the way. I give my highest recommendations for this book and all of the rest in the series. We are promised a fifth book in the series entitled Steam & Trust, for which I am eagerly awaiting as the people of Harlan try to find a place that they can find peace.
Well, there it is…
Edited By Benjamin Arrowood