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review 2018-09-30 04:04
The Wild Robot (audiobook) by Peter Brown, narrated by Kate Atwater
The Wild Robot - Peter Brown

The Wild Robot is a Middle Grade sci-fi/survival/talking animal book. I had seen it before and considered getting it, but I have too many books as it is. When I saw that my local public library had added it to their Overdrive audiobook collection, I pounced on it. I believe my checkout included access to accompanying files with illustrations, but I didn't attempt to find and open those files.

The Wild Robot begins with a terrible shipwreck during a hurricane (although the words "climate change" are never used, this is definitely a vision of the near future that includes some of the effects of climate change). The ship's cargo included several robots, only one of which survived the wreck. That robot, Roz, is activated by a group of curious otters. Over the next few months, Roz gradually learns how to survive in the wild and communicate with the animals around her. Can a robot somehow make friends and find a home in such a wild place?

I really enjoyed how this audiobook started. The beginning seemed very much like a robot survival book, as Roz attempted to figure out how to protect herself from the elements and from animals. She was programmed to be nonviolent and was therefore incapable of fighting back against any animals that attacked her. She was also programmed to keep herself clean and shiny, a serious drawback in outdoor survival, where her shininess drew attention to her and prevented her from properly hiding from dangers.

I was a bit disappointed when Roz learned to communicate with animals and this suddenly morphed from an outdoor adventure into a talking animal book. Somehow, Roz's newfound animal communication skills allowed her to talk to all animals she came across in full sentences, and allowed them to talk to her in full sentences. I had some trouble accepting that Roz and a beaver were somehow using beaver language to discuss the specifics of building a lodge. The beaver even suggested that Roz grow a garden with some help from local deer. Meanwhile, I was sitting there wondering how a beaver and deer were supposed to know anything about gardening.

Eventually, I managed to stop thinking of the book's animals as true animals so much and was able to think of them more as talking animals, which helped me enjoy the story more. (I'm guessing that the author really did intend for them to be true animals, based on details later on in the book. But animal communication doesn't work like that, so I'm just going to go with my "talking animals with a few true animal characteristics" interpretation.)

Roz's efforts to find a place for herself and make friends were nice, although the lengths she had to go to before the animals stopped considering her a monster and started considering her a friend occasionally bothered me. I mean, what if she hadn't been able to build all those lodges?

At any rate, I particularly liked her efforts to figure out motherhood after she accidentally became the mother of a gosling. I worried about where Brown planned to go with that. In theory, Roz could outlive Brightbill, her son. If you, like me, worry about fictional animals, I can tell you that

there were a few animal deaths here and there but that, as far as I can remember, none of the animals readers are likely to be most attached to die.

(spoiler show)

I did start to worry that Roz wasn't going to make it, though. It's amazing the amount of damage she sustained in only a few months living in a forest. With no humans around, there was no way for her to acquire new parts or get any kind of maintenance. It was a relief to know that a sequel already existed. If Roz was the main character of that book as well, surely she wouldn't be destroyed at some point in The Wild Robot.

Kate Atwater's narration was wonderful. I liked most of the voices she chose for the various animals, and her robotic Roz voice somehow managed to be appealing. She was accompanied by various sound effects, such as otter squeaks and button clicks, which I thought was nicely done.

All in all, I enjoyed this and will probably read (or listen to) the next book at some point.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2013-11-22 23:18
It could be worse: three survival books reviewed
Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook: The Portable Guide to Getting Out Alive - Mykel Hawke
Urban Survival Guide (Outdoor Life) - Editors of Outdoor Life Magazine
Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart - Barry Davies


Don't worry. Tom Hanks is okay.


I'm not preparing for the zombie apocalypse, because that's not real. And I'm not a doomsday prepper preparing for the end of days, because that's not real either. I do, however, live in an area that practically invites disaster. Here in the Pacific Northwest earthquakes are not unheard of. There is a danger of tsunami. There are high-profile military and naval bases in the area as well as a major airplane manufacturer, all good terrorist targets. Oh, also there is an active volcano almost within spitting distance. And people complain about our rain.


When I realized all this I had two choices: have a nervous breakdown or get prepared. I thought I'd try the latter first (always time for a nervous breakdown later). Seriously, though, survival situations are practically an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world. When you think of the devastating effects of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunamis in Thailand and Japan as well as man-made disasters like 9/11 one realizes that survival skills are relevant to the average person. Disasters are a reality and if it happens to other people it might as well happen to me or you. It's nice to know at least a few things about how to survive and overcome.


As with anything, though some information is good and some isn't and you need good info when things go south. Here are three titles I've found at my local library:  


Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook by Mykel Hawke (Running Press, 2011)

Mykel Hawke is the "star of Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel." I'll have to take their word for it since I don't have cable. But despite his action-movie-hero-sounding name, Mykel Hawke seems to be the real deal, being a former captain in the US Army Special Forces who now runs a survival training company. Anyway, I have nothing to say about the show since I've never seen it, but Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty handy basic reference for survival techniques, covering food, shelter, water, fire, navigation, signaling, first aid-- all that good stuff-- all in a compact, sturdy format that you can throw in your ruck for reference when you need it. 


While I'm no survival expert, I can say that most of the stuff in the book falls in line with what I have read and also with my very rudimentary personal experiences. But I guess basic techniques aren't going to change much from instructor to instructor. There are a few points on which Hawke differs from common instruction. One is the notion that you cannot drink urine. Hawke tells us (rather gleefully, it seems), "You can drink urine!" and then covers the rules for doing so. This is, of course, only to be done as a last resort (I hope you knew that already).


All in all, and despite the cover photo featuring Mykel Hawke giving us non-Special Forces types the stink-eye, Hawke's Special Forces Survival Handbook is a pretty good basic survival manual that covers the essentials, is well-organized, and handy enough to have nearby. Although it isn't as complete as, say, John "Lofty" Wiseman's SAS Survival Manual, it's not a bad choice. Plus, Hawke's personal wisdom, practical advice and conversational tone make this a nice guide to get familiar with.


Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide: Top Urban Survival Skills by Rich Johnson and the editors of Outdoor Life (Weldon Owen, 2012)

Urban environments have their own nuances but, IMHO, the basics of surviving emergency situations are pretty universal. You need, shelter, water, first aid, etc. So when I saw this title in the library catalog I thought it might enlighten me to conditions specific to urban environments. It doesn't really provide much insight, though, and is nearly worthless as a practical guide to surviving emergency situations. It's really more of a casual reading book that MacGyver wannabes might peruse while sitting on the chemical toilet trying to negotiate the expulsion of freeze-dried beef stroganoff. 


Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is basically a list of 111 "skills" that are supposedly essential for urban survival. Some of these "skills" are useful, like #50: Use a fire extinguisher (important in everyday life), but most are basically worthless if one is at all serious about the topic. For example, #29: Disarm an attacker (I guess, important, but you're not going to learn that in one page of cartoon drawings. Besides, I think this better falls under the rubric of "self-defense"). #40: Pick a lock (useful? I guess, but I think you can get by without knowing how to pick a lock). #73: Know basic maritime laws (hmmm, not really a "skill" and not really "urban," but okay).  But then things get crazy. #102: Silence your gun. #103: Modify your shotgun. #105: Shoot a crossbow. #108: Throw a knife??? What the hell? I get the feeling this book probably appeals a lot to the nuts who have some sort of post-apocalyptic Mad Max fantasies. I can almost guarantee that none of these things will be a concern when a disaster strikes.  Outdoor Life Urban Survival Guide is of marginal entertainment value and of little practical value, which is a shame because the author purports to be a former SF demolitions sergeant, so I'd think that he would have better sense than to write this stuff. Maybe the Outdoor Life editors are to blame, but whatever. This book is mostly useless.


Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart by Barry Davies (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012)

Barry Davies is an eighteen-year veteran of the British Special Air Service, so, again, you'd expect that he knows his stuff. In the case of Modern Survival: How to Cope When Everything Falls Apart you'd be right, but the beauty part of this book is that it's not about skills or techniques per se and more about overall considerations to think about before and during a disaster, any disaster. Modern Survival is hugely relevant to anyone who lives in an area in which a potential disaster could take place (i.e., everywhere).


Davies covers a wide variety of potential disasters, both natural and man-made, from earthquakes and forest fires to civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Again, the main focus here is not so much skill development but rather a conceptual framework, a strategy, for staying out of trouble or getting yourself out of trouble when it is unavoidable, and Davies does this in a practical and easy to understand manner. Modern Survival is not always a pleasant book to read, though this is a positive and not a negative. Davies, with characteristic British calm, makes clear that during a disaster things will likely be very unpleasant. One may be injured or have injured loved ones to look after. Even worse, loved ones may be dead or missing. Davies' point isn't to scare the reader, but rather to present the scenarios as realistically as possible while still emphasizing that these obstacles can be overcome.


Most importantly, Modern Survival is a practical guide for the average civilian. It's full of common sense advice. For example, his most important piece of survival gear? A smart phone (I should get one, one of these days. My seven-year old flip phone has lost its panache). Another piece of advice from Davies? If the authorities warn you of a tornado, or a tsunami, or whatever, leave immediately. Do it! Common sense, right? But it bears emphasis because so many people don't and so many people die because of that.


Of the three books reviewed here, I think Davies' Modern Survival is probably the most important. Skills can be learnt from a variety of sources and most of the basic ones are pretty universal. There are many books that cover these. But Davies' practical and realistic insights regarding coping with disaster is something that I haven't seen too much in "survival" books, many of which focus on various skills and techniques without relating them to a modern, urban, eveyday context. Modern Survival is a highly relevant book that I consider a must-read for those wishing to increase their chances of surviving disaster.


It could be worse (famous last words).  

It's easy to obsess over this stuff, but I wouldn't worry too much. You can't be prepared for everything. I don't think it's necessary to become a "survival expert," but knowing some good, basic principles can go a long way and it's kind of fun. I have some more books I'm perusing and I might review them at a future date.  Until then, be safe. And remember: You can drink urine!

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review 2012-12-21 00:00
The Outdoor Survival Bible - Rob Beattie This book helped me survive the apocalypse.
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