SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA – From the very first words of “The Borrowed World,” author Franklin Horton’s introduction maintains that his book is “intended to encourage thought and discussion” and is not meant as a prepping textbook. Unfortunately for him, he managed to write a good story, and a useful self-reliance guide.
Like James Wesley Rawles’s “Patriots,” Horton picks up the mantle of creating a novel that offers tips and details of important prepping concepts and survival gear. But more importantly, he does it in a down-to-earth, accessible manner. Horton doesn’t spend page after page on ideas for preppers with lots of disposable cash, and no other focus.
He understands that while many may aspire for a home in the American Redoubt, the overwhelming majority of preppers are everyday people who get up, drive their kids to school, go to work and deal with daily life. So, if there is an “elite” level of survival, Horton doesn’t go there (not that there is anything wrong with that).
In terms of the storytelling, one of the strengths of “The Borrowed World” is that Horton sets up the scenario fairly quickly and without too much focus on the key elements that gets the characters on the journey.
Simply put, Horton’s character works for the Virginia state government and is on a business trip to Richmond, a five-hour drive from home, when an existential crisis strikes the nation. This situation leaves the protagonist, Jim Powell, and co-workers stranded as the world falls apart around them.
As a reader/reviewer who lived in Virginia and worked for the state government, it would be easy to nitpick this piece of the story, but that would be missing the point.
Right or wrong, this reviewer often tries to avoid the ubiquitous EMP-driven, grid-down drama and “Lord of the Rings”-type travelogue where our heroes must make a journey against all odds. Luckily, writers like Horton realize this is perhaps the greatest real-life scenario most survivalists must overcome. It also presents a great opportunity for a thrilling story.
And for Horton, it works.
In this case, he clearly understands that for many people the first and most daunting task of surviving a catastrophic event is to get home. After all, very few prepared individuals are just sitting at home, patiently waiting for the S to Hit The Fan. Regular folks are commuting to their office, visiting grandma or traveling for business. Why this character is away from home really has no bearing on the crux of the story.
One nice piece of the book is that Horton avoids a singular focus on the epic trip home by essentially making it a two-for-one book. On one hand, he offers the central character’s adventure home written in the first person. On the other hand, we have the story of the protagonist’s wife as she deals with the challenges on the home front.
Both stories are compelling in their own right. It is reminiscent of the acclaimed war movie by Mel Gibson “We Were Soldiers” in which the audience is treated to the battles led by Gibson’s character in Vietnam, and also the battles on the home front led by the Army wives.
In “The Borrowed World,” Jim Powell wakes up in a Richmond hotel preparing for a busy day when he learns that perhaps thousands of terrorist sleeper cells devastated America’s communications, power grid, fuel supplies and transportation infrastructure in one coordinated attack.
Unfortunately, destroyed refineries, transportation routes and pipelines have forced a halt to gasoline sales leading us to the real struggle for the group: how six workmates will make the 340-mile trip back to Russell County in southwest Virginia with a nearly empty gas tank.
Adding to the logistical problem is what the crisis has done to the mindset of everyone around. The problem is illustrated when police cars speed past elderly people in need. Jim puts this troubling development into context when he says he “didn’t have a frame of reference for a world in which the police would not stop and help a lady in need.” Some may find it refreshing that in Jim’s mind, the lack of police help isn’t from a nefarious government plot, but more of the government’s inability to cope with the scale of the problem.
Meanwhile, as the party stumbles upon a church handing out food and water to needy travelers, Jim laments the future of that church when they will eventually run out of food themselves and the trucks that normally restock grocery store inventory do not come.
On the home front, Jim’s wife, Ellen, is lucky because she is married to an organized prepper. As she manages the homestead waiting for his return, she follows “the plan” and quickly acquires the resources she needs before the public’s panic-buying frenzy. Unfortunately, the family’s fairly remote location is uncomfortably close to a trailer park that is surely inhabited by an unprepared and unruly clientele.
Readers with skeptical spouses will surely appreciate that as Ellen begins to understand the situation and the dangers she and her family now face, her appreciation for Jim’s preparations grow exponentially. Prior to this day, Jim was concerned about Ellen thinking him paranoid for preparing. But now, his wife is grateful for his forethought because unlike many, they had a chance of “assuring that she and her children were not victims of the desperate and immoral.”
To this point, Horton really hits the nail on the head when it comes to why a SHTF event will lead to an incredibly dangerous America and why the modern, “snowflake” sensibility is ruinous in a crisis.
As Jim puts it to his travel companions, “Sixty years ago this might have been the kind of country where a man could travel home and get help along the way from decent trusting people. It was not the same America. (Now) For every good man in America, there was a drug addict wanting to steal from you. For every good woman, there was a deadbeat too lazy to work and waiting for a handout. For every child, there was a gang member, a sex offender, or a carjacker.”
That some are slow to come around to the necessary mindset for a new and dangerous world adds to Jim’s problems. Fortunately, for fans of this fictional genre, it will help harden their resolve and speed their efforts to prepare and shore up their survival gear.
Throughout the book, Horton does a terrific job of listing the types of things he considers critical for the two key situations – getting home and protecting home. And again, he does it in a down-to-earth manner.
For instance, the steps taken by Jim as he leads his party on the trek home are innovative enough to get readers thinking about using routes most people would never imagine. It also makes the story that much more interesting.
In the end, readers certainly will appreciate that the story carries “The Borrowed World,” and gives credence to Horton’s ideas for preparedness. More importantly, I think readers will appreciate Horton’s efforts to help us care about the book’s heroes. Taking the time to give us insight into these people make them rounded characters, add depth, and in turn give us a reason to care.
In situations like those in “The Borrowed World,” caring is what drives us forward. It also makes it easy to recommend this book, while looking forward to the next book in the series.
“The Borrowed World” is available in paperback at Amazon, digitally on Kindle and on Audible.