DiscoverPost-Apocalyptic

Scorched Earth

By

Not for me 😔

A tantalising vision of what could have been, marred by poor editing, pacing and a bland protagonist.

Synopsis

Scorched Earth is a powerful Post-Apocalyptic Time Travel novel that crosses two timelines. It is a story of love, war, hate and survival.

Heading home, IT specialist Craig Buffett, steps out of an elevator and into a forest thirty years in the future. He encounters a world foreign to him.

Vast, devastated landscapes reach to the horizon, littered with broken glass and twisted metal.

Genetically modified creatures roam the land existing on human blood.

A youth drug that does what it claims on the box.

And a wormhole controlled by a megalomaniac military leader.

Desperate to get home, Craig adjusts to this world. Accepts this primary function, this base humanity. He embraces his new reality.

Deep inside, he has to find the will to step up and do what he must stop this future from happening.

Time travel novels are not the norm, at least for me. However, that doesn’t mean that the opportunity shouldn’t be given for them to be a part of popular culture, or at least rank as highly as more common genres such as romance, fantasy or sci-fi.


Although there were some pretty good ideas in Scorched Earth, it was ultimately for naught, however, due to a variety of editing, proofreading and pacing issues that existed from start to finish. An ideal novel for a reader who can look past all of that and see the novel for what it is - a seed of a brilliant idea that could’ve been coaxed from mildly entertaining to a tour de force within the time travel genre. A not-so-ideal novel for readers who hold books to a higher standard and expect excellent editing, good pacing and structured storylines, revealing important information as and when needed.


Different people, different needs, different expectations. Unfortunately, despite the amazing setting for the novel, overall, this just wasn’t my cup of tea.


**SPOILERS AHEAD**


Fascinating and Exciting Premise


First things first, I love the premise of the book. Good ideas always deserves a mention - and Richard Lee was onto something when he introduced a time travel concept to his novel. As a time travel neophyte, it was fascinating to delve into Lee’s fresh take on such a complex topic, one which is explored a million times over in mediums such as television and movies (think Back to the Future and Avengers: Endgame), but generally not in novels.


In terms of freshness of thought, Lee has hit it out of the park. The seeds of a brilliant concept are there, from Craig travelling into a dystopian future, to the Unspeakables who roam the land, the harsh but realistic setting of a future after nuclear war and a hope of a better tomorrow or a changing past, all play a brilliant part in keeping the reader’s mind engaged, even through the prodigiously slow pacing, to wonder how they would survive if they found their world turned upside down the next day. The seed of a great novel was present in Scorched Earth, along with potentially deadly antagonists, in the form of the Unspeakables and SimTek, and a race to safe the world.


However, an enlightening theme on the verge of greatness is all I can really say about what went right with Scorched Earth. There are more than just a few flaws but the most glaring ones, in my opinion, are the ones below:


Motivated but Mary Sue protagonist


Craig is a nice guy. You root for him, follow him in his quest to find out how he got to the future, the relationships he builds with the folks from Havelock Grove, their journey to SimTek and his quest to change the future. The reader is Craig’s faithful companion, journeying from mild mannered office worker to full fledged Rambo-esque superhero.


It is, however, the most painful of companionships. The beginning was great, showing him to be just another clueless and unlucky soul, an experiment gone wrong, trapped in a future he never wanted, confused and bewildered by what was happening. This quickly turned into a farce, as he seems to be the perfect dystopian soldier. He is skilled in almost every weapon he picks up, is unfazed when faced with Unspeakables and keeps up with others from Havelock Grove, who have had to hone their survivorship skills over several years. Skills which Craig seems to pick up from the word ‘go’.


It is unrealistic and, at best, a grave insult to the other characters in the novel. It diminishes their importance, blunts the potential danger faced by Craig as he ventures in this new world and cuts through the tension of every situation faced by Craig, safe in the knowledge that he is good at everything for some unknown reason.


Pacing, Editing and Structure Way Off


The most glaring error, in my opinion, seems to be the way the novel is structured and worded, with important information being revealed with every turn of the page. I understand that this will be a subjective opinion for most - some prefer face paced plots, others the slow burn of a building saga. I fall into the latter camp.


The reader’s anticipation, curiosity and tension are undercut by the fact that mysteries are constantly being unravelled every few pages. It leaves no room for the reader to have their own thoughts and theories about what is going on, how it’s happening and why it is happening. When all the mysteries are being answered, there’s nothing left for the reader to wonder and, as such, nothing to keep them turning the next page of an increasingly vanilla plot line.


Some of the dialogue choices were quite infantile as well, in my opinion. Sentences were short, crude and to the point. Usually, characters that have experienced much have more eloquent things to say, lessons to impart or secrets to reveal. None of these characters, even the survivors of Havelock Grove, had anything incredibly insightful to impart, other than revealing plot mysteries and saying things that move the story along at a blistering pace. As a self-confessed lover of slow burns, I find this ‘need for speed’ dialogue, pacing and sentence structure very off putting, which made me struggle to even consider finishing the novel near the very end.


Conclusion


A recommendation for those who can ignore it’s flaws and see it as it is - a raw diamond that needed a little polish to make it worth the read. Otherwise, a very forgettable experience.

Reviewed by

Andy James Trevors is a 25 year old indie author living in Melbourne, Australia. A.J. initially wrote as a coping mechanism to deal with stress from law school which inevitably bloomed into a passion for sharing creative stories with the world.

Synopsis

Scorched Earth is a powerful Post-Apocalyptic Time Travel novel that crosses two timelines. It is a story of love, war, hate and survival.

Heading home, IT specialist Craig Buffett, steps out of an elevator and into a forest thirty years in the future. He encounters a world foreign to him.

Vast, devastated landscapes reach to the horizon, littered with broken glass and twisted metal.

Genetically modified creatures roam the land existing on human blood.

A youth drug that does what it claims on the box.

And a wormhole controlled by a megalomaniac military leader.

Desperate to get home, Craig adjusts to this world. Accepts this primary function, this base humanity. He embraces his new reality.

Deep inside, he has to find the will to step up and do what he must stop this future from happening.

ONE

Saturday, June 13th, 2026


Dressed in khaki pants and a button-down business shirt, Craig Buffet headed out the door. Unaware that at three-thirty this afternoon a nuclear mishap with guaranteed retaliation would destroy the world. Nothing would be the same again.

In seven hours, a peaceful IT specialist will battle for his life against blood sucking creatures, become a murderer and create a hacktivism group to bring down world governments.

If Craig realized, when he woke before six this morning, that his life was about to change, he would have stayed in bed.

But this Saturday began like any other workday. Rolling out of bed and onto the floor one minute before his alarm blared, Craig pumped out ten push-ups. On his dresser was a list of morning exercises from the Internet. His junk food diet and working in a cubical ravaged a physique he longed to show off.

Next on the list were star jumps for thirty seconds. Followed by thirty burpees. Six burpees in, he stopped and caught his breath. Sweat dotted his forehead and added a sheen to his arms.

A few years ago, he hiked with his best friend Leon. He missed those days. Craig didn’t see much of his friend these days, except at work. They traveled every holiday, or three days weekend. In Westport, they cycled The Old Ghost Road. In Otago, they hit the Central Rail Trail. In Fiordland National Park, they jet boated and walked the Hollyford Track. They trudged up Mount Tongariro and Mount Taranaki three months later. They planned the next hike for Diamond Lake & Rocky Mountain in Wanaka. But it never happened. Leon's wife popped out a baby.

Craig thought about going by himself. But being shy he found it difficult to speak to people. 

He needed to increase his explosive stamina—but not this morning. Craig yanked off his sweat damp boxers. He wandered naked through his tiny apartment to the kitchen where he set the coffee machine.

In the shower, he massaged his hands. It was a sharp pain like broken glass raked across the knuckles. Giving his hand a hard shake fixed the problem. Ten minutes later, wearing only the towel, he sipped two cups of coffee. Time to put some clothes on. Cubical working and dealing with Internet issues was not as terrible as people claimed. No rainbows and unicorns, but it covered the bills—which he hid under a skydiving brochure.

Skydiving! Hiking was one thing, but leaping to certain death from a plane was ludicrous. There were more pressing things to do, like building computers, going shopping or retrieving the morning paper. He shuffled outside and collected the newspaper.

Two years ago, he moved into this apartment and decided to get newspaper deliveries for the comic strips. After a half year, he stopped reading but still collected the paper. Craig built up an enormous pile of unread newspapers. Today’s edition landed on the top of the stack. One day he might get around to reading them.

He switched on the SimTek 10K television for background noise. Plugged into the TV was a stereo system for Home Entertainment. An eccentric collection of DVDs sat on a small bookcase with only a few books from Laymon to Child to King to Koontz.

Why did I agree to work on a Saturday? Sure, the pay was better. A half-day with a full day’s pay. Fine occasionally, but once you agreed, the higher ups found it easier to ask more often. He hated conversations with managers. Still, it was a job, and it beat the unemployment line.

Craig sat at the living room table and looked at the white-painted swing door that opened to the kitchen. It needed a good cleaning. Hung on the wall, next to the door, were three framed photos.

The first was him aged five. The snapshot was labeled ‘the first day of school’. He wore a gray uniform and a toothy smile.

Next to that was a photo of him and his parents standing in the arena of an electric fencing contest. He was decked out in a 3-Weapon Mask, Underarm Protector, Front-Zip Jacket, 3-Weapon Glove, Stretch Pants and a Gold Electric Epee. He had the gear but not the skills.

The third photo showed him holding a ‘Crack-Shot’ certificate, his sixth and a .303 rifle, barrel pointed to the ground. 

Everyone thought Craig had a ton of natural ability. Olympic talent, somebody said.

His mother signed him up for twice-weekly lessons. On his eighteenth birthday, he gave up both sports for girls, beer and free weekends.

The certificates hung on the wall above his tattered sofa. They held memories of better days as did the sofa. His eyes moved to the fencing photo.

The sofa belonged to his parents, taken from him five years ago by a drunk driver who fell asleep at the wheel. He ran a red light, jumped the curb and smashed into a restaurant plate window. The car plowed into his parents on date night. Nine people died that night. Five other diners landed in the hospital. The CCTV footage proved most harrowing when played on the nightly news: he saw his parents watching the car as it rammed into their table. 

Craig finished his coffee, checked his leather shoulder bag for the MacBook Air and stepped out the door with his third cup of coffee in a brown paper cup. Checking his SimTek watch, he hit the streets on schedule and arrived thirty minutes early, as per routine.

The building that housed Systems Info was designed with mirrored black glass. Other buildings across the road blocked the morning sun, making it resemble a dark fortress. But this afternoon, the windows would gleam.

He made his way into the elevator bay and pressed the button.

“Hi, Craig.”

He spun around, surprised at the familiar voice, and shocked to hear it on a Saturday morning. “Hi, Leon.”

“In need of some overtime?”

“They asked, so here I am.”

The elevator doors opened. Leon motioned Craig to enter before him. “Hey!”

“What?”

“We haven’t been out for a drink in a while.”

“Life catches up to everyone.”

“Time flies, yeah?” He slapped Craig hard on the shoulder. “Susan keeps me busy around the house. You should come over more often.”

“And help you do yard work for free. No thanks.” Craig watched the elevator numbers climb.

“Speaking of which, are you seeing anyone?”

“You asking me out?”

Leon snorted.

“You could do worse.”

“Shut up.” He showed Craig a picture on his outdated phone. “This is Susan’s friend, Jenna.” Blond hair, blue eyes, and unblemished golden skin. “She’s quite a surfer. And she’s single.”

Surfing. Now, there’s an idea.

Craig imagined parachuting with a surfboard attached to his feet. The wind rushing past him, the sun high in the sky, and the smell of the ocean filling his lungs. He would cut the chute and hit a wave to ride to the shore where Jenna waited and cheered him on.

“Earth to Craig?” Leon said, breaking into his buddy’s thoughts, “Interested?”

“I’ve never surfed.”

The elevator opened, and they got out. “What are you doing next Saturday?”

“God willing, not working.”

Leon smiled. “I’ll see to that. How about we meet at the beach?”

Craig fiddled with his bag.

Leon read the indecision on Craig’s face. “Don’t worry about it. What’s the worst that could happen? You have a spectacular day at the beach and body surf some waves. You might even get a date out of it.”

Convinced, he agreed. “All right.”

They separated there.

In the assigned cubical, Craig switched on the computer. His hands twitched, like it had in the shower. It was worse this time. Each move of his fingers felt like his joints grounded glass into his knuckles.

His hands vanished.

What the—?

Craig jumped up. His knees banged the desk and he almost lost his seating when the chair rolled to the center of his cube. His arms evaporated.  

He told himself to calm down and took several deep breaths.

Craig turned to the compact mirror near his computer and checked his reflection. His face and brown hair faded. The skin became more translucent each second.

Craig screamed but had no voice. His breaths came in rapid bursts. A jack-hammering heart pounded against his chest as he saw himself vanish out of existence. 

“Are you all right, Craig?”

He looked up. Lucy, who toiled in the cubical next to him, leaned over the partition. He stared at his hands, flesh once more. Craig twiddled his fingers and touched his face and hair. Back to normal, his breathing slowed.

“I saw a ghost.”

“Don’t tell me that.”

In her mind, apparitions were real, and any entity that returned was hell-bent on destruction. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m kidding around.”

“But you’re okay?”

Lucy's smooth lips crinkled as she nearly scolded her coworker like a mother. She was concerned. Craig did not understand how to explain what happened, even to him it sounded nuts. It was as if he were fading out of existence, never to be seen again, or even missed.

“I’m good, Lucy. Thanks.”

She gawked at him a minute longer, flashed a tea-stained smile, and disappeared behind her partition. Craig checked his hands. They were solid enough, but the incident freaked him out. People didn’t simply vanish like that. His life wasn’t a Rob Sterling mystery. At least, he hoped not.

Craig logged on to the advanced communication system. Threw his headset on, adjusted the mic, and prepared for the first call. 


About the author

Award-winning author, Richard Lee is a displaced New Zealand writer of the weird, wonderful and grotesque.  Over seventy short stories have slammed his name on anthologies and magazines across the globe. Five novels impacted humanity and two novellas were the icing on the cake. view profile

Published on July 23, 2020

Published by TKD Books NZ

100000 words

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Reviewed by

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