The didactic element of his fiction is nowhere better highlighted than in this combination of novel and how-to-manual. Once upon a time, my paperback copy was supposedly worth over $80 on the second hand market. I’m assuming that’s not the case now.
My memory tells me that Ing once stated that he decided, in this book, to make ground zero of his nuclear blast his friend Charles Brown’s house — incidentally the, until recently, location of Locus magazine. However, I have not been able to confirm that.
Raw Feed (2001): Pulling Through, Dean Ing, 1987.
“Introduction”, Spider Robinson — Brief details on Ing’s careers as a “Air Force interceptor crew chief”, engineer, automotive designer, media theorist, and writer of moral sf that Robinson compares to his cherished Robert A. Heinlein in his narrative skills and details. Robinson is also impressed that Ing was not a naturally talented writer. Evidently his first published story was not very good and pretty preachy.
Pulling Through— Given that relatively little of the story takes place outside of a fallout shelter and the surrounding estate, this is a surprisingly gripping and fast paced short novel about the minutiae of cobbling together survival equipment to avoid the worst of the fallout during an eight day period after several nuke strikes on the San Francisco Bay area. There is some detail as narrator Harve Rackham and his relatives struggle to make it to his estate and more when they leave.
Certainly, the encounter with freebooting escaped convicts is covered in a detailed way as it precipitates the flight from the estate and the death of Rackham’s spoiled nephew, Lance. However, most post-disaster novels would linger on those details, invert the proportion of the story that takes place in the shelter and that occurring outside. Ing seamlessly combines his obvious intent at showing how nuclear fallout can be survived with forethought and a minimum of equipment and a compelling story. The eventual marriage of ex-bounty hunter Rackham with Kate Gallo (former fugitive that he nabs on Doomsday and takes back to the shelter) was unexpected but plausible and well-done. So was Rackham taking in a couple of stragglers, both of whom ultimately die of radiation poisoning. That was not something you would expect the tough Rackham to do, but it was a very realistic act of mercy. Each of the characters have their strengths and weaknesses, even spoiled Lance. Besides the obvious call for survivalist preparation, Lance is a moral lesson by Ing in the dangers of children always being told of their alternatives and not being made to learn that some jobs and duties simply can not be shirked because they must be done. My biggest complaint about this story is that it features the same narrator character as Ing’s “Vital Signs” yet the alien contact and alien base on the moon are mentioned nowhere in this story which obviously takes place later in Rackham’s life. However, the events of that earlier story have evidently left no marks on the world or Rackham to judge by their not being mentioned. This is the same problem I had with Ing’s two related stories “Liquid Assets” and “Evileye”.
“Nuclear Survival”– Essentially these 54 pages present the rationale for the novel Pulling Through (that survival of nuclear fallout is possible but that one shouldn’t try it in cities and that the U.S. had no real civil defense plan while the Soviets had an extensive one), notes on how to accomplish what the novel’s characters do (specifically building an emergency airtight fallout shelter with emergency air filters and air pump as well as an emergency toilet), and general, but brief, survivalist tips on arranging emergency power supplies, clothing selection, food and medicine, and what skills may be useful in the post-apocalypse world. These sorts of articles always remind one that civilization is fragile and steps to survive its fall may, ultimately, be unnecessary but are not unwise. They are an insurance policy that only you can provide and that can’t be purchased.