This review encompasses books 1-5 in the series and may contain some limited spoilers. This review is done from a technical perspective with an eye towards the military components of the series.
D.J. Molles first self-published this series back in 2012. He’s since been picked up by a big house publisher and his series is a bestseller.
The Remaining is about Captain Lee Harden, one of 48 Coordinators (1 per the lower 48 states) that, when there is an ELE (or Extinction Level Event), are sent to hardened sites to wait it out. If they are needed, then there are mission orders they open and follow. If they’re not needed, then all is well and they return to the real world.
However, all is not well and contact is lost with command. Harden and the other Coordinators open their orders and understand what is required of them. In the series, a virus, FURY, has infected over 90% of the population turning them into zombie like creatures, ravenous for fresh meat. In later books, some of the infected are more like John O’Brien’s New World Night Runners: strong, thinking and coordinated in their actions.
One of many problems that I came across was if there’s a scheduled communications check-in then there should be an accompanying data dump so if communications is list, the Coordinators know the latest that has happened or at least the latest up to that point. This was not done so all the Coordinators are left in the dark as to just how bad it has gotten outside their secure locations. The information they do get, inside the mission orders, is dated and old. Overtaken by Events comes to mind; they’re acting on old Intel about the infection and how far it’s spread that is completely useless. The Coordinator’s primary mission orders are to contact any survivors and attempt to restore order and government using supplies stored in secure bunkers known only to and accessible by, the Coordinators using their specialized GPS (Global Positioning System).
In The Remaining, Molles has fleshed out Harden to be someone who has been trained to the level of CAG (Combat Application Group, another euphemism for Delta Force or Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D)), but there are some serious issues. After laying out his main character’s background and espousing how high speed he is, as soon as the decision is made to get Harden out of his secure concrete bunker (not cement as is mentioned several times within the books) under the equally secure house, he encounters his first infected. It’s at this point where all that high-speed training goes out the window and Harden makes so many get-your-ass-killed-in-seconds rookie mistakes that it’s a double face palm WTF moment.
Harden has poor tactical situational awareness and it almost gets him killed. He’s extremely indecisive and does not exhibit any of the ingrained traits of an experienced special operator. There is way too much time spent by Harden via an internal dialogue deciding the ‘proper’ course of action that usually ends up being the incorrect option. The main character comes across as someone who has no real-world operational experience and was picked for this mission because he stepped forward while everyone else took one step back. Or maybe he was chosen because he was the tallest? He wasn’t chosen for his tactical proficiency that’s for sure. The level of training (or rather the lack thereof) that Harden is supposed to have endured is painfully obvious when time after time, he totally screws the pooch.
Here’s just one example:
When Harden saves a teenage boy’s life, the story begins to go off the rails. Here is an unknown; his father was killed and Harden witnessed that and saved the kid’s life, but the kid is a potential hostile. With that in mind, Harden arms him, turns his back on him and goes after the men who killed the father. The kid could be (and in reality is) an intelligence resource and someone who Harden should get as much info from as possible before proceeding further. But that didn’t happen. Harden had to rush in and save the day.
Harden has no battle buddy, he’s operating alone, has no backup, has no viable intelligence on what’s been happening as all contact with command was lost 30 days prior, so with all that high speed training, skills and experience, he leaves an armed unknown behind him and moves to do what exactly? Engage some hostiles not knowing the full picture, just what he witnessed and what the kid was able to blubber out. Pull back and reassess the situation. There is no way of knowing how many hostiles are nearby, what kind of force they have in reserve, how well armed they are, etc. No, let’s just assume that what you see is all that you’re going to engage. High-speed operators do that all the time. Not.
Sadly, it was in the plot. Harden then takes this kid back to his secure location and leaves him inside with his dog that was previously described as highly trained and only able to take commands from Harden.
To recap, a potential hostile, now armed, in a secure location with access to all kinds of weaponry and sensitive equipment with a dog that has trained with the main character and is only able to take commands from said character.
Anyone think this is a bad plot device?
As Harden continues his recon of the surface world, he encounters other survivors who are quite hostile. He ends up getting into his truck and having a running gun battle while avoiding abandoned vehicles on the roads. But as he enters his truck he ‘tosses’ his rifle onto the seat soon followed by his handgun. He ends up somehow retaining both those firearms after doing high speed avoidance driving before abandoning his truck and moving into the bush on foot. However the armed hostiles find his truck and follow the address back to his house where the kid, in his upmost wisdom, has left the door open. Harden’s hardened shelter is ransacked and then burned to the ground (Book 1).
Let’s look at that issue for just a moment. The armed hostiles encountered by Harden were able to track back to his house using the registration in his truck. Hold the phone. Here’s a super secret Department of Defense-like program and those in charge kept the name and address of a secure location on a public document? With all the cover companies that have been used over the decades by the CIA (Air America), DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), and other agencies, this program couldn’t have come up with a simple company name to put on the registration with an out of state address or a PO Box? That’s basic tradecraft and OPSEC (Operational Security).
But it was in the plot and a plot that is soon becoming quite ventilated.
Harden, now with more survivors, heads back to the smoking ruin of what used to be his secure location, meets up with his dog and the dipshit kid that caused his site to be compromised. They set out on foot seeking other survivors, and this is all the while with the threat of the infected looming over their heads, infected that the reader really knows very little about except they attack, roam in packs and in later books make nests/dens.
While the concept was interesting enough to get me to read the first book, there were (and still are) a lot of technical issues that are glossed over. I do admit, I have been reading the rest of the series because it’s so much of a train wreck; you’re just compelled to see how bad it’s really going to get. For those of you who enjoy the typical action novel, television show or movie, feel free to stop here and skip to the end. What I’m going to point out below will explain the technical issues of the series.
Technical issues within the series:
Technical score: D
-In a later book, Harden encounters some military survivors who have MATVs (Mine Resistant All-Terrain Vehicle) armed with a 240B (FN family of machine gun, heavier caliber than the M249 SAW) and a MK19 (Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher) but about one sentence later, the MK19 is now a MA2 .50 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) better known as the Ma Deuce. Two distinct and different weapon systems and not easily confused.
-Keys being in the ignition of a military combat vehicle. Not going to happen.
-A character ‘turning on’ iron sights on a rifle. Iron sights are part of the rifle and never need to be turned on.
-A character grabbing the radio out of a military Hummer, a system that is bolted to the transmission tunnel and weighs 150lbs, and running with it.
-Same radio, SINCGARS (Single Integrated Channel-Ground/Air Radio System), is being used by the civilian survivors who have no training on it. If you’ve never used one, try to find the ON switch. It’s not like Grandpa’s old CB radio.
-No clear detail as to what is actually on the National Guard Hummers they recover in regard to weapon mounts. Is it a ring mount or a version of a turret? A ring mount puts the gunner in an exposed position with (if they’re lucky) a gun shield. A turret encloses the gunner completely. Pick a variation and stick with it. This falls back to basic research; find out what the most commonly used configuration is for the National Guard and go with it.
Then we have said gunner stretching their legs out to rest on the aforementioned radio. If that was done, how would the gunner be able to rotate the weapon/ring mount/turret? Ring mounts and turrets mounted on Hummers are not powered and to extend one’s legs that far makes it very, very uncomfortable for the gunner.
Then there’s squeezing several people into a Hummer when they don’t have bench seats and are hard pressed to handle 5 people. Hummers are large but there’s not a lot of room inside. And then we have no one in the Hummer wearing helmets. Soft covers are not allowed inside a military Hummer. To say the interior is austere is being very generous. There is no cushion zones, no air bags, no padding, and that includes the seats, which would provide a soft cushion. In fact, the more PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) a soldier wears while inside a Hummer, the more comfortable and safe they are.
No maintenance is done on any of the vehicles they recover from the military. Hummers are maintenance intensive just like every single vehicle built for the military. Then there’s fuel. Sure, the survivors recover a HEMITT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, military terminology for heavy cargo truck) configured as a tanker but the fuel won’t last long if you’re running numerous Hummers and 1078 LMTVs (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, military term for 2.5 ton cargo truck). There has never been a vehicle designed for the military with fuel conservation in mind. Most are designed to provide job security for the defense contractor and burn gallons just idling.
End Technical review
The series is not as bad some in the genre. But, in each book, it’s like injury of the week for Harden. If it’s not falling down an elevator shaft, it’s being shot or scraped by rusty nails or stabbed or beaten or losing all his high speed gear (several times) or being shot in the head, etc. Sometimes all these injuries and events happen within one book. Oh yeah, Harden is portrayed as that much of a total badass. A tactically deficient, lack of situational awareness badass. What happens to Harden in each book is either that Molles’ hates his main character or is attempting to show that no matter how much physical abuse that Harden endures, the mission will prevail.
For series creation and the concept behind the overall storyline, The Remaining gets a B-.
For a character and plot development: C
This score is based on the fact that the characters need some serious background. Most are just clichéd cardboard cutouts, including Harden, with little to no detail about them, or their motivations with exception to one at Camp Ryder (readers will know who I’m referring to) and the leader of the Followers. Don’t wait until book 5, Allegiance, to let the reader know about events in Harden’s personal life when that should have been done in Book 1 as part of the main character’s back story.
I commend Molles on getting his work out there and being picked up by a publisher, but there’s still work to be done on this series.