Our planet is constantly at risk of bombardment from outer space. In Chaco by Peggy A. Wheeler that scenario horrifyingly comes to life when a massive solar flare sends out electro-magnetic pulses that render all technology on earth useless. Anything that relies on computer technology is essentially gone and people must now learn to survive in the harshest of ways. In the wealthy suburb of Green Lake, Southern California, Chaco Rodriquez worked as a gardener, cum handyman for the rich Walker family. Chaco was, however, much more than he seemed on the surface. An illegal immigrant to the United States, Chaco was a PHD graduate in physics from El Salvador, who had fought for the revolutionaries in the Salvadoran civil war and then fled to the US when he became the most wanted man in El Salvador. When the solar storm strikes earth, all hell quickly breaks loose as civilization and the civil society quickly deteriorate and it becomes every man and woman for themselves – a real battle for survival. Chaco will attempt to lead the Walkers, their son Jude, his wife and their two children, along with the Walker’s next-door neighbors, the Pennymoons, eight hundred miles through the most difficult terrain to a self-sufficient community where the Walker’s daughter Fiona lives. It will be a journey of horror and hardship, like no other, as the loose band of friends seek to survive the harsh Northern California winter and the violence of their fellow man.
The premise of Chaco by Peggy A. Wheeler, that of a massive solar storm rendering earth’s technology effectively useless is one that is a genuine and real threat to our civilization. This made this dystopian story even more poignant and pressing than may otherwise have been the case. I did feel some of the characters were overdrawn a little, almost to the point of becoming caricatures. That was certainly the case with the Pennymoons, with the husband Rocky and his red-necked, racist attitudes towards Chaco and his wife Margo, with her down-on-the-farm, Texas drawl and dirt-poor self-sufficiency skills. That having been said, it was hard not to like Rocky, the man who would shoot his mouth off at a moment’s notice, but truly had a heart of gold. I particularly liked the character of Jude (the Walker’s son), who allowed the author to have a frank and knowledgeable discussion about the problems of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) among US veterans. The character was deeply troubled and symptomatic of so many returning veterans in society who struggle to deal with the horrors they have witnessed. This is not a read for the faint of heart. There is significant, graphic violence as well as death and heartbreak, but equally there is a real triumph of the indomitable human spirit and the will to survive. This is a good, solid dystopian read.