Survival Buzz: Eight Lessons Learned from Survival Fiction

Gaye LevyGaye Levy | Updated Jul 3, 2019 (Orig - Oct 8, 2016)



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There is fine line between fiction as entertainment and fiction as a learning experience.  Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get both. In that respect, fictionalized tales of survival have proliferated over the years, and as long as you steer clear of the monster zombie titles, you can usually find something redeeming to add to your preparedness knowledge.

As a newbie prepper, one of the first books I read was One Second After.  This book was an eye opener and served to confirm that the road to preparedness was the correct path to follow.  Shortly after reading One Second After, I saw the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and I was hooked.

8 Lessons Learned from Survival Fiction | Backdoor Survival

It is now many years later and after a steady diet of reading survival fiction and nothing else, I now read literary fiction and escapist thrillers.  Still, about once a month I read something in the survival genre, and each time I do, I mentally check off lessons learned that help me become a more accomplished prepper.

Do you wonder about what can be learned from a made-up story?  Let me share with you the lessons learned from R.P. Ruggiero’s Brushfire Plague.  This book is still one of my favorites (and hint, hint, wink, wink) is currently only 99 cents for the Kindle version).

8 Lessons Learned from Brushfire Plague

1.  Skills and stuff are equally important.

What do I mean by that?  Simply that you can have a years’ worth of freeze dried food, six ways to purify water and a well-stocked first aid kit but if you don’t have the skills to defend yourself, the knowledge to find food in the wild, and the ability to tend to serious wounds, all of the “stuff” you own will be of little use to you.

2.  Community organization with like minded people can and will save lives.

Unless you live in isolation, the bad guys are going to come around and it may be difficult if not impossible to defend yourself on your own.  Not only is there strength in numbers, but members of an organized team will most certainly have a wider variety of skills at their disposal.

3.  Mental discipline and a level head under pressure will prevail when tough decisions need to be made.

When roaming groups of people show up on your street, they may be tired, hungry and in need of shelter.  What do you do?  Who gets to stay?  How do you decide?  This is just one example of the tough decisions you may have to make in a collapse situation.

4.  Do not underestimate the need to defend yourself in ways you can not fathom in advance.

Without being too much of a spoiler, Brushfire Plague presented methods of community defense I had not considered before.  (Hint:  using old vehicles to set up a physical blockade – now why didn’t I think of that?)

5.  There will be casualties.  Be prepared mentally and physically to deal with the seriously wounded and the deceased.

You may feel prepared with a well-stocked first aid kit, antibiotics and even a suture kit.  But do you know how to use them?  How do you determine dosages especially when the drugs on hand may be in short supply?  Who gets them and who does not?

Equally important, if people die (and they likely will), what will you do with the the bodies?  Bury them (hope you have a strong back and a good shovel)? Burn them?  The ramifications may be horrific but if you are one of the survivors, will you have to have the mental capacity to deal with this.

6.  Grieving is important as is the need to spend personal time alone to rest and recharge.

No one can do it all, 24 hours a day, for days on end.  Take time to grieve your losses and also time to rest and recharge your mental and physical batteries.

7.  Perceived “good guys” may be bad and perceived “bad guys” may actually be good.

No surprise here. Just be prepared to evaluate, interview and act based upon as much knowledge and gut instinct you can muster. Trust no one until that trust in earned.

8.  Feelings and compassion count as does the love and support of friends and family.

This is an important theme both in the book and in my own life.  Without these qualities, the will to go on may be compromised.  Again, I do not want to spoil the book for you, but much as in Cormac McCormack’s “The Road”, the love between a father and his son is an important part of Brushfire Plague.

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The Final Word

In my opinion, survival fiction should not be so terrifying that you end up filled with fear and apprehension.  Instead, you should first, enjoy the book, and second, come away with a sense of renewed motivation to continue to expand upon your survival skill set.  The very best of the genre will present situations that are possible, if not probably, not so far  “out there” in fantasy, that there is no useful takeaway.

That is my opinion, anyway.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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SpotlightBrushfire Plague: Retribution

Both the author, R.P. Ruggiero, and his publisher, Prepper Press, are long term friends of Backdoor Survival.  I therefore am excited to spotlight the newly released third title in the Brushfire Plague series, Retribution.  I just downloaded a copy to my Kindle on Thursday and can’t wait to start it.

If you are just getting started with this series, also check out:

Brushfire Plague:  Currently just 99 cents for the Kindle version.
Brushfire Plague: Reckoning:  Book 2 in the series/

Couple being a good neighbor with strong primary defenses and you have a winning combination. Here are some items to consider as you build up your fortress.

One Second After:  For many, this novel was a game changer that convinced them of the need to be prepared. It is a story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war based upon an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) used as a weapon.  It could happen.  If you have not read this book, you really should.  (Note that the paperback version is less in cost than the Kindle version.  These days I am seeing that more and more.)  There is also a sequel, One Year After, which is also a good read.

The Road:  In addition, if you have not read The Road and would prefer a movie instead, the DVD is reasonably priced and also available for streaming.

Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: This light is awesome. I use mine downstairs and when I get up in the middle of the night, it comes on automatically. It is quite unobtrusive and gives off a ton of light.  I own two of these flood lights.  Runs for a year on 3 D size batteries.

Sabre Family Home & Property Protection Pepper Spray:  This small fire extinguisher-style pepper spray delivers a strong blast covering an entire doorway. Offering extremely practical protection, SABRE provides distance from your threat with its 30 foot range.  I like that it includes a wall mount.

Midland 36-Mile 50-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios: These are the handheld radios that I own. There are lots of good uses for the these radios. Handy while hiking, traveling, or simply keeping in touch with your partner while out shopping. They have a decent range and are waterproof – qualities that I feel are important. Plus, in addition to using the included rechargeable batteries, they can use regular AAs.  Just be aware that getting a 36 mile range out of any handheld FRS radio is a myth.  4 to 6 miles is more likely.  I prefer the Midland brand but the Motorola FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radios are also popular and more budget friendly.

Tac Force TF-705BK Tactical Assisted Opening Folding Knife 4.5-Inch Closed: This is a great knife with free shipping.  Not only that, it is ranked as the #1 best seller in both the camping and hunting knives categories.  The reviews raved about this knife so I bought one, used it, and and can recommend it.  See The Inexpensive Tac-Force Speedster Outdoor Knife.

Nokero N233 Solar Light:  I first heard about these solar lights from a reader a few years back.  Now that I have tested them, I am impressed by the amount of light they give off as well their sturdy construction.  I especially like how they hold a charge for 12 months, meaning your can store them fully charged and can count on them to work during an unexpected emergency.

Baofeng or Pofung UV-5R Ham Two Way Radio: The Pofung (aka Baofeng) UV-5R is a compact hand held transceiver providing 4 watts in the frequency range of 136-174 MHz and 400-480 MHz It is a compact, economical HT that includes a special VHF receive band from 65 – 108 MHz which includes the regular FM broadcast band. Dual watch and dual reception is supported.

Here is the antenna I ordered along with the programming cable: NAGOYA Antenna for BAOFENG UV-5R and USB Programming Cable for Baofeng UV-5R UV-3R+.

Need help with setup?  Read How to Set-Up and Master Ham Radio Without Going Crazy.


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Updated Jul 3, 2019
Published Oct 8, 2016

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14 Responses to “Survival Buzz: Eight Lessons Learned from Survival Fiction”

  1. I have learned:
    1. gasoline has an unlimited shelf life, tires last for ever and auto maintenance and repairs were a complete waste of money.
    2. Shoes and clothing don’t wear out, We have been slaves to fashion.
    3. Hair and beards don’t grow. Women’s hair dye lasts forever.
    4. Bullets grow on trees.
    5. All semi-automatic rifles suddenly and spontaneously become full auto.
    5. You can speak at full volume and tromp through the woods and still sneak up on a deer.
    6. You don’t need sterile first aid items. A dirty rag is sufficient to stop bleeding without the risk of infection. Besides, they never hit a vital organ.
    7. Tourniquet will stop bleeding without killing the limb.
    8. You can walk forever in the same shoes without them wearing out or your feet getting trench foot or other foot problems.
    9. Bathing and brushing your teeth was a lie from the pharma industry.
    10. You can go for days without any water. When you do find water, a gulp or two is all you need. Your horse can go even longer.
    11. You can make your camp fire as large as a bonfire. No one will ever see it, or smell the smoke. Op sec is not necessary.
    12. International military are incompetent, do not understand basic tactics and are disorganized and undisciplined.

    • Cracking me up. I wish you had posted the source for each lesson. Some I think I can guess–gasoline not deteriorating from Earth Abides; international forces blundering dolts from Patriot series &c.

    • Cracking me up too. But I would add this one.

      13. Good guys are pure as the driven snow with no faults and can kill hundreds without regret or a single twinge of conscience.

    • 14. You can wait until the last possible minute to prepare. Then you run into a bookstore, meet a prepper author who gives you advice, buy the book and start preparing hours before the disaster hits.

      15. You don’t need fire arms or training. You can send your daughter off to acquire one with her smile; spend a couple of hours practicing the draw (to develop muscle memory), spend some time dry firing at a picture on the wall, and you are ready for whatever comes your way.

      16. Keep your preps under wraps, and while you are at it, better learn some acting skills so you can appear as though you are as desperate and hungry as all your neighbors. Better still if no one sees you or your family at all. It’s next to impossible to tell good guys from bad and more difficult to determine intent unless you have had courses from the FBI behavioral science unit on reading body language.

      17. Neighborhood meetings are a trap. If book scenarios be at all accurate, better off to plan your immediate under cover escape to your decommissioned missile silo or slip way back into the Woody Swamp.

      18. All transceivers will have ranges at least as long as their advertized ranges and in most cases much further.

      19. All roads and trails are highly suspect and should be avoided. Thus, no real reason to worry about keeping ATVs, motorcycles or other internal combustion conveyances around. Using roads and trails is just asking to be ambushed, yet all our heroes continue to do so even after they knew better.

      20. Having a generator makes about as much sense (in terms of operational security) as travelling on roads or obvious trails. Possessing solar pannels (while silent) are highly visible and make you an obvious target. Never seen a solar pannel, so maybe it is possible to hide these to some degree.

      21. Stress, hunger, deprivation and loss will affect everyone differently: allies may become enemies, and enimies may become allies.

      22. Helping anyone you don’t know is potentially a seriously big risk. It matters not their appearance or how they pull at your heart-strings.

      23. This should preempt the list and be inserted at #1. Though many of these books have been describe as “survival manuals in novel form,” none of them is even close to that. They are entertainment first; their value as teaching tools would be a very distant second. There is not a one of these books I would hand to a friend, neighbor or relative and say “here, read this. learn and be edified.” This isn’t to say that these works have no value: they do. What they do very well is open you up to imaginations other than your own–other environments, circumstances, situations and climates other than what you are familiar with. They are really good at presenting various kinds of gear and giving ideas about what sorts of supplies are out there. We can learn vicariously from characters in books. I know now not to navigate (in any form) beneath a bridge. But then common sense would have had me off the roads to begin with even though I would equally as likely break a leg or get lost trying to go cross country.

  2. My favorite book for learning survival skills from was “Alas, Babylon”. This is still one of my favorite books of all time and I read all genres and 100s of books a year.

    • Agreed. It is among my all-time favorite books not just in PA genre.

  3. Thoughtful list Gaye. I would also encourage your readers to read real books about how people handled difficult situations in the past i.e. prisoners of war, past disasters, books by explorers etc. I enjoyed Nevil Shutes “A Town Like Alice” about women prisoners of war in a Japanese camp, and their survival. We can learn a lot from the past and this isn’t discussed much on prepper sites. Hey even the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder can be read by adults and children. My daughter loved this series and plowed through it by herself in three weeks as a second grader. To many of the prepper books are gun porn, violent and you get sick of the high body counts.

    This past week with hurricane Matthew should be a heads up to all of us to plan for natural disasters. And this is becoming more main stream and more places are encouraging us to think about this and plan. Like the Cascadia Fault line zone which we both live in.

    Maybe you could do a “Historical books that have meaning to Preppers” list, would be interesting to hear what books your readers have read and why and what inspired them?

    Thank you again for your hard work.

    • Good advice. I recall reading stuff from survivor from Lebanon. //
      There is a guy from Bosnia who blogs. start here. there are other webpages with his story too. // There is another who survived the economic collapse of Argentina or Ukraine depending on where you are reading. Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre, of has published a list entitled “12 Survival Lessons from Ukraine,” based mainly on the survivalist blog entries of a Ukrainian citizen who calls himself George1980. VS. // and then there is this: //
      Also do a search on Weimar Republic Germany hyperinflation. and dont forget Zimbabwe.

  4. I teach Nursing assistant courses in a local community college. Part of the curriculum is disaster preparedness. Toward the end of the semester, I let them view the movie “Contagion.” It is a good movie, plus it speaks to an awful lot of what we have been studying. There are a few holes in the movie, but not enough to knock it. Plus, this is a scenario that very well COULD happen. It is good food for thought, and I ask my students questions afterward that get them thinking about what they can do to protect themselves and their families should something like this happen TOMORROW!

  5. While I enjoyed One Second After and consider it one of the better apocalyptic novels they made one serious mistake. No one was allowed to fish in the town reservoir??? When they were starving for protein??? I don’t think so.

    I would add Lucifer’s Hammer to the list of books you can learn from. It’s extremely well-written and contains a plethora of survival info.

    • Lucifer’s Hammer is awesome. Earth Abides, The Last Tribe and On the Beach are also worth reading though not so much for their survival information as for the tremendous psychological impact of the aftermath. I just finished The Last Tribe, and it was refreshing in its approach. No gun porn, very little in the way of bad language. It’s more literary in its approach; not so realistic and rich in improbabilities. Nonetheless, it was a book I was eager to get back to each night.

  6. If you want a good look at how it’s going to be like, watch hurricane Matthew. Read the articles of what is happening afterwards. Gas, money is running out. People’s blog about can’t wait to loot. Sheriff department saying being without electricity and water will push alot of people “over the wedge”, it’s only going to get worse.

  7. Wow, the only one of these I have heard of is, The Road. I’m going to have to catch up on my doomsday fiction. It’s a genera, that I really enjoy. I love the freedom people have when there is no state. Yeah, everyone has to fend for themselves but they can generally do what they want and I just enjoy that about doomsday fiction. I’m glad there are all these I never heard of.

    • The genre has exploded in the past decade or so–maybe dates back further than this. Patriots seems to be the work that got the whole revival started. Most of the nascent post apocalyptic writing I would classify as either “Prepper Fiction” or “Survival Fiction” to distinguish it from more traditional post apocalyptic works such as Alas Babylon, On the Beach, The Stand, Lucifer’s Hammer, The Road, The New Madrid Run, Earth Abides and The Dog Stars. There is a ton of newer material; most of it is independently published; often poorly written and poorly edited. Most–if not all–are available on Amazon Kindle, and if you have a “Kindle Unlimited” membership, many are free to borrow.

      The industry is stuck in something of a rut with many stories using EMP as the trigger event and a “getting home” scenario as the narrative. Of course, there are exceptions to this (Jakarta Pandemic, Cyber Storm, The Cascade Preppers series, Scorched Earth series and 299 Days series) come to mind. Most of the current crop are in “series;” usually trilogies; one (299 Days) is a decalogy. A. American’s excellent “Going Home” series is–I think–currently at seven in the series. James Rawles “Patriots” is also a series of sorts; each subsequent novel in the collection is contemporaneous with the others but geographically distinct. Some readers/reviewers find them redundant. Generally, these works don’t appear to live up to the status of “Patriots.”

      My best advice is to read the reviews and internet discussions on any work you are considering. Also, if you can, take advantage of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. If you do Audible books, check the samples out. Sometimes, audio books are completely derailed by an awful reader. I’d advise caution with any series that extends beyond three volumes. Repetitions of the same themes, recapitulations, and soliloquies tend to get old very quickly in the hands of any but the most skilled of writers.

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