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Archive for the ‘Reviews’Category

How We Do Business – Mylar Bag Edition

Hey everyone, I know it’s been a while!  While it has been quiet on the blog, we have been very busy behind the scenes trying to serve our customers better.  I’ve been thinking about doing a video encapsulating our philosophy of doing business, and what makes us stand out.  We have the best return customer rate in the business, and I thought we would share some of the reasons why.  If you’ve been on the fence about ordering from us, I hope this gives you some indication of how far we will go to serve our customers!  If you don’t know the address, here is our online store!

1)  Same Day Shipping – In the beginning, there is very little to differentiate one seller from another.  One of the ways we have done so from day one is offering same day shipping for all orders that come in until 3pm.  And many days if I can manage it, I’ll ship everything that comes in until about 5pm, stopping by the Post Office on the way home to drop off packages which miss the regular pickup.  Getting your package in the mail ASAP is very important to us.  We work 7 days a week (about a half shift on Saturday and Sunday) to make sure you get your item as soon as humanly possible without using Express Service!

2)  USPS Priority Mail Shipping for most orders – Whatever else one might say about USPS, I can attest that Priority Mail is the best reasonably costed standard shipping method available today.  UPS Ground can compete for a certain geographical area, but no one else guarantees 2-3 day shipping times (In TN and parts of surrounding states, some folks have told us they got their package the next day!).  This includes Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.  If you need your order as quick as possible, you can trust us to get it there.  Just today, we had several customers on the phone who thanked us on getting their order to them ASAP.

3)  We Value Your Privacy – I am a privacy nut myself, and so we go out of our way to protect yours.  First, we use discrete packaging, meaning nothing will ever show up on your door with a big ‘Survival Stuff Inside!’ or giant ‘Discount Mylar Bags’ plastered all over the box.  We have many folks who specifically request plain packaging, and this is to let everyone know we don’t have ANY outer packaging with our name on it.  The only place you will see our name is the return address as required by our shipping carriers.

4)  We Value Your Privacy, Part 2 – For all orders placed online, we NEVER see or have access to your credit card information.  It is handled in exactly the same manner as it would be at a department or other retail store…invisibly and behind the scenes.  Only our credit card processor actually sees your credit card number, so you never have to fear one of our employees gallivanting around Europe using your credit card!

5)  We Value Your Privacy, Part 3 – While I’ve thought about doing one, we don’t have a mailing list.  We don’t, and will never, sell your email to anyone for any reason.  I hate junk mail in my inbox, and many of the survival stores are terrible about sending out a ton.  The only way I would send an email to a customer is if they asked me to do a newsletter, and only then if they chose to opt in.  This is currently not in the planning stage, so if you’d like to see one, let me know.

6)  Free Shipping over $50 and on all kits – In the beginning I tested out ‘Free shipping on everything!’  That wasn’t very funny when I had dozens of folks placing orders for 2 Mylar Bags at $.25 each.  Needless to say, we lost our shirts and had to change that policy quickly.=)  We know $50 is a lot of money to some folks, and so we also offer free shipping on all our kits (located here).  Our goal is not to make money on shipping, and we only have the minimum charge to cover the cost of processing and packaging small orders.

7)  When We Screw Up, We Fix It – This is perhaps the defining aspect of how we run our business.  While we do our best to get all orders out the door perfect, inevitably we’ll mess one up.  However, you have my promise that I’ll fix it, quickly!  Your satisfaction with your order is our only concern.

8)  No Hassle Returns – Something not quite what you pictured when you bought it?  No problem, you are welcome to return anything at any time for a full refund!  Again, I only wish I could get the same from many of the places I order!=)  We’ve accepted returns from customers who had their product for a year and finally said to themselves ‘I’m never going to do this’.  And that’s OK, ship it back to us and we’ll refund it.

If there’s anything we can do serve you that we’re not currently doing, please let me know!  We are working on getting some new bag sizes in to fill requests of customers, so I hope you’ll check back!

Our Favorite Go-Bag

I mentioned my favorite bug-out bag in a previous post.  I wanted to toss up some photos about how one of my friends (A nurse) has outfitted his.  For its size, he’s hauling a lot of cool stuff!

13

03 2012

Survivors: A Great Concept, An Average Novel

(Warning, this review contains spoilers.)

Survivors, A Novel of the Coming Collapse, James Rawles’ sophomore fiction novel, is both better and worse than his first, Patriots.  I didn’t realize it prior to reading the book, but Survivors is a prequel to Patriots.  This seems to limit the world-state of Survivors and the ability tell a vibrant tale, as the story feels bound by the mythology of the first book.  The novel, while technically (much) better written than Patriots, suffers because of it.  For example, the climax which links the two stories is not nearly as powerful as the original.  Plus, unlike Patriots, there were many loose ends, and I had to wonder whether this was because of the author’s desire to write another novel in the series or something else, such as page limitations.  Finally, as with Patriots, Rawles’ leaves open the questions of human nature which could have provided power to the story, instead opting to go with Ayn Randian one-dimensional character models, i.e. every character is either good or bad, and no one has any inner battles or demons to conquer.

The opening of the book is similar to Patriots, with an imminent economic collapse forcing the characters to try to get to their respective home bases or bug-out-locations while collecting supplies to live on.  In Survivors, this is complicated by the fact that the main protagonist is serving in Afghanistan and will need to find his way home.  Luckily, the character is just about to leave active duty as the collapse occurs, and with the help of $20,000 in gold coins he has with him, proceeds to make his way across the globe to his home in the American southwest.  Other major and minor characters are introduced as well.  They are a decent cross-section of society and range from a southern grandmother, a trio of Hispanic orphans and one of the antagonists of the story, a mid-western gang member.

One aspect of Rawles’ writings one must get used to is his heavy use of technical and military acronyms and jargon.  While some of this is useful for those who want to reference topics after reading it, much of it is distracting.  For example, while the detailed explanations of Ham Radio usage which appear in the books could be a good jumping off point to someone interested in pursuing Ham communications, the esoteric rules and regulations of US Army discharge procedures probably has less value for most folks.  However, this technical knowledge does provide some realism to the story, and it appears that is what Rawles strives for.  Plus, the overall writing quality of the book is a vast improvement over Patriots, and Rawles  seems comfortable telling a story, something I wasn’t convinced of with his first effort.

The main failure of the novel is the same as in the prior…one-dimensional characters and storytelling.  There is no emotional component to the characters, and they are all too good to be true.  They always do the ‘right’ thing.  Their one-sidedness makes them forgettable, and in many cases, interchangeable.  All the main characters pray regularly and act with virtue; there is nothing wrong with that.  The problem is they are never put into a situation where they might have to make a decision that may be morally questionable.  For example, the character who is striving to get home from Afghanistan is lucky enough to have his tour end just as the Crunch (the apocalyptic event) occurs…meaning there was no tough moral choice as to whether he went AWOL to get back to his family, as many others in the story did (though no actual characters).  He is lucky enough to have accumulated plenty of gold coins with which he barters his way across Europe, South America and the American Southwest…bypassing the need of the character to find food and water, or heaven forbid, steal them.  After the character becomes injured, he is taken in by some random strangers who nurse him back to health…again avoiding any actual storytelling where the character may have had to make difficult choices to survive.

And it wasn’t just this character, but all of them, that seem to have providential protection which prevents them from ever having to make judgement calls.  The orphans are turned out from their orphanage with skills, guns, horses and plenty of food.  The couple that takes them in finds guns, ammunition and pounds of silver coins hidden in a barn, making their stay in the post-apocalyptic world fairly comfortable.  While every story can survive some deus ex machina and Dudley Do-Right characters, in general those are not the interesting ones.  Show us the reactions and the soul-searching of these survivors if they were bereft of their food, their guns, and their safety.  Would the main character have stowed away on a ship if he couldn’t buy passage on one?  Would the orphans have maintained their belief systems if put out with nothing but their clothes?  And if they did, how would they have survived?  Would they have become conscientious bandits, stealing only what they needed to survive day to day?

As a prepper and survivalist, I would like to see what Rawles’ thinks it would take to survive if all our preps were not available.  Would even the most devout characters turn to theft or violence to survive?  Would they try to live off the land, only to perish with their values intact?  Those are the stories begging to be told in apocalyptic fiction.  The greatest characters in the genre struggle mightily, with their consciences as well as with the outside world.  Mad Max, the father from The Road, and the struggles of those in The Walking Dead.

For all my criticism, I enjoyed the story.  Survivors was a much more human tale than Patriots.  And while the ‘love story chapter’ seemed a little forced, I appreciate that Rawles’ tried to flesh out his characters a little.  To me, that shows he is growing as a writer.  However, he still has a way to go in his world-building, particularly in regard to the forced ‘black and whiteness’ of it all.  It is easy to make good choices in comfortable situations, but it makes for poor storytelling…good fiction asks characters to make difficult choices in uncomfortable situations.

With the dearth of good survival fiction, you’ll likely want to pick up Survivors, even with its flaws.  Rawles is a mainstay of the survival community, and his contributions, especially the knowledge gathered at his blog, is considerable.  Overall, I give Survivors 3 of 5 stars.

19

10 2011

Survival Fiction Review – Life as We Knew It

I used to be a voracious reader, devouring up to 2-3 books per week. The business has consumed most of that free time, but I am again trying to make it a point to read a little each evening to wind down. Because most of the fiction and non-fiction I read is either Survival-related or Post-Apocalyptic, I have decided to review each book as I am done with it in case anyone stopping by the blog is looking for something to read!

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a quick read.  While it has its flaws, it is engrossing, coherent, and does a good job of making the reader imagine the cataclysmic scenario unfolding in the book.   For those who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, it’s premise reminded me of the Herculoids by Hanna Barbara, an 80’s Saturday morning cartoon.  In Pfeffer’s version, the moon is struck by an asteroid that drives it out of its orbit and closer to the earth, in turn causing catastrophe’s of every sort:  volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear winter.  The more disasters the better!

The book is written in the first person of a high-school aged teenage girl, Miranda, and her daily life in a small town in Pennsylvania, as she records it in journal fashion.  First-person fiction can be challenging if the main character isn’t very likable, but Miranda fits the bill of many good protagonists:  humble, sweet, vulnerable, a fighter in the right circumstances with just the right touch of neurotic.  However, I had a hard time relating to many of the other characters because we only see them second-hand through Miranda.

The plot elements were introduced timely, with only a little of the book being devoted to Miranda’s life prior to the main event, and it is typical teenage fare you find in the genre, whether that is Beverly Hills, 90210 or Twilight.  After the impact of the asteroid on the moon, the book describes how Miranda and her family survive the ensuing disasters.  While the initial scenes illustrate fairly well the panic an event can generate and the lengths that people will go to to survive, the book gives short shrift to these same emotions later on.

Some of the best pieces of the book show how necessity dictates action; for example, the rationing of food and water, ensuring that one member of a group is strong and ready, even at the expense of the health of others, and how minor injuries in normal times can be life-threatening in a disaster scenario.  This is where the book shines, with realistic depictions of the emotional and physical responses hunger and privation cause, and how a family copes with it every day.

Overall, the book is decent for the angles it tackles…however, it fails to tackle quite a bit.  It’s portrayal of everything Christian as either crazy or evil is incredibly heavy-handed.  For example, the one character in the book that could be described as evil is the local preacher.  Now, I’m not above having religious bad guys, as one of my favorites is Dumas’ Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeer’s. (Tim Curry did a great and dastardly job in my favorite version of the movie)  However, coupled with several bashings of President Bush, it leads me to believe the author is doing a little political axe-grinding, and it just brings the novel down, especially as it is mostly apolitical.

The bigger oversight is the complete lack of violence.  While 90% of the world is starving to death, there isn’t a single belligerent begger trying to panhandle a slice of bread, nor a biker gang going door to door seeking booze or a shank of lamb.  While the main characters are constantly threatened by the environment, there is only one slight moment of danger at the hands of  strangers, and even that is completely avoided by the main character.  Later in the book, Miranda describes how hers is one of the only houses with smoke rising from the chimney, and yet even that doesn’t draw the notice of any ne’er-do-wells.

While I would love to believe our society is as civilized as portrayed, with folks running out of food just peacefully dying off without bothering anyone, it isn’t realistic in the slightest.  Katrina demonstrated vividly how people really react when law and order breaks down.  It is more likely the tiny Pennsylvania town in the novel would have become a war zone as starving people and those with supplies were in constant struggle.

Even with those two big flaws, I will probably pick up the 2nd novel in the series.  I see from its reviews that the protagonist is Catholic, so it will be interesting to see whether the negative portrayal  of Christians in Life as We Knew It continues.

If you are looking for a way to introduce your teen or spouse to preparedness topics, you could do much worse than having them read Life as We Knew It.

30

05 2011