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"Now, the moral to all this, Dear Stranger, is simple: that wisdom can sometimes be mistaken for craziness, and that strangers can often be friends in disguise. Please try to remember on the hard days and cold night to come that all the deaths weren't for nothing. It's going to take a while, because all change takes time, but it will get better, I promise. Your friend, Ruby."

—Patient Zero, p.2


There must be by now an official genre for Apocalyptic as opposed to Dystopian fiction. You know, a future cataclysm and what happens in its wake, as opposed to living in a really fooked-up society usually in the hands of madmen, charlatans, and murderers. It seems that EOTW novels are on everybody's night stand these days, just as most American movie screens are brain-blowing the bright colors of Superheroes' costumes, and most TVs—while tuned to news stations, anyway—are touting bells and whistles, spin and "alternative facts". If there's this so-called genre, then there must be a "favorites" list. And the novel on everyone's tally—and probably in number uno position—is, yep, The Stand.(1)

In The Stand, after everything comes tumblin' down and everybody who's gonna escape does, journeys begin toward two, distinctive camps, with one following the Good and the other, Evil. Now this book, Defender, has a similar polarity, but it is all travelogue while identifying then fighting against the Evil Figures—most of them bearded caricature rednecks in plaid and overalls—who, natch', want to take what's not theirs. Destination? Pretty soupy. Mostly, things come at them and our party of survivors react. It's kinda like playin' a video game. The point of view even bounces back and forth in third-person, limited between two characters, as if they're takin' turns with the hand console.

Formulaic? Sure, but the devil's in the details, right Stevie? And, in this outing, the one huge detail that's withheld for ssssssuspense—and therefore kinda making this read like one, big drumroll—is:

who the hell is talking in their heads?

The decimation of humanity's world suddenly occurred when—seven years ago—lotsa people got voices in their craniums. This caused suicide, murder, mayhem, full-bore insanity. The civilization is now in total collapse, yet there are still life-sustaining staples to be scrounged like gas, food, lodging. Also, there are people still wandering around like its the 1980s and President Regan just collapsed the mental health "snake pits" putting 600,000 or 1.2 million (statistics vary) people to "sleeping on the grates"(2). The worrisome conclaves of individuals with separatist agendas, however, are just starting to appear in DefenderWorld. Timewise, this seems a little before the ravaged terrain of McCarthy's The Road from 2006.

If you follow the author's postscript called "A Note"(p.453), it kicks up the hypothesis called "bicameralism", which is a notion premiered by psychologist Julian Jaynes in 1976 that explains the origin of Defender's Voice. In the ancient brain—3,000 years ago—the theory states that the right hemisphere of man's thinking cap transferred sensory and memorized data via auditory hallucinations to the left side, which, in turn, exercised action based upon what it "heard."

As introduced in Defender, Voice is mainly nagging banter—like a disembodied C-3PO—inside a lead protagonist, Pilgrim. However, not everybody has these "whispers, murmurings"(p.102) and, like the individuals they ride, Voice appears to be singular and shouldn't be demonized, as "there are shades of grey behind every action"(p.102). But as this tale becomes more encumbered, these strange phonics translate almost as an augur, relaying information the "listener" cannot possibly know. And, a new ability by Voice is discovered. Under extreme duress, Voice can jump from one brain to another's—as witnessed between Pilgrim and Lacey—when the sheet hits the clothesline.(3) This parapsychological communication becomes overly cramped when another alien Voice appears to Pilgrim called "The Other"(p.412)(4). A further headscratch is a seemingly prediction key that lies in stretching the title: DeFendHer, as Voice's meat-wagon—Pilgrim—stops at Lacie's lemonade stand and ends up packing her to Vicksburg and the ensuing adventure, of which she will become its leading lady and torchbearer. Later, when tactical decisions need to keep them alive, they follow Voice's directions, leading toward the anti-christ named The Flitting Man that "comes to steal people in the night"(p.104) who possibly hear bats in their belfry.

As more encounters get dogpiled with more characters—both good and bad;honorable and despicable alike—the shift delineates the polarity between its extremes. It concludes in robust adventure, leaving shaky question marks as roadposts toward—evidently, according to publicity sources (backcover blurb)—a four-part continuation series entitled Voices.

This read will stand alone. And there's enough quirkiness and erudite prose to stay the path for the following, future volumes.



1)Behind 1978's The Stand, the literary perspective of the 20th Century yield this genre's roots: Earth Abides, c.1949, Day of the Triffids, c.1951, I Am Legend, c.1954, The Death Of Grass, c.1956, On The Beach, c.1957, Level 7, c.1959, Alas, Babylon, c.1959, The Drowned World, c.1962.

2) "In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “'people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”'--

3) SPOILER, okay? trampolining from one brain to another is totally unprecedented, plus Pilgrim is headshot from "almost point-blank range"(p.161) by a guy who's done this a lot. Okay, okay, the shooter has a knife in his gut, but still. . . And we're to believe Pilgrim survives? It seems headswitching is more integral to the plot than contriving a blunder.

4) Voice ids Other without explanation. Another herald blowin' a horn into the upcoming series, I suspect.


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