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Dust and Kisses (2014) is the first SF novel in the Seeders Universe series. It is set in the near future within Portland, Oregon.
In this novel, Carissa Noack is a twenty-three year post-doctorate at the University of Oregon at Eugene. Carey is working with Dr. Canfield on an experiment.
Matt Ladel is about the same age as Carey. He has a bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering.
In this story, Carey is checking the control experiments within the vault. The moment passes and she comes out of the vault to find Canfield dead. The noise of car alarms comes from outside. She discovers that no one is alive except herself.
Some animal species are also dead, but cats are still alive. After checking on her parents -- who are also dead -- Carey finally walks to the coast. She lives for three years with her two cats. Then she comes back to Portland.
Matt also lived through the moment within a bank vault. He left Portland for a year, but returned two years ago. He put up cameras and motion detectors over approaches to his present quarters.
When Carey climbs up on an overpass and looks around, Matt's alarm sounds and wakes him. Although he thinks it was caused by a deer, he checks it out. To his surprise, he sees a pretty woman in the monitor.
Matt decides to address the woman. Carey is surprised to hear his voice. She covers him with her rifle, but he already has his hands up.
Matt has used the Rose Garden arena as a huge chicken coop. He offers her fried chicken for a picnic the next day at noon. Carey agrees to come to Powells Bookstore for the picnic.
They talk and feel a mutual attraction. However, both have been alone for three years, so they take things slowly. Matt tells her that the Embassy Suites still has potable water in its cistern.
This tale brings more visitors to Portland. A group of motorcyclists come in on I-84. Matt learns about the motorcycles first and runs to notify Carey. Yet Carey notices the motorcycles and starts to worry before Matt arrives. Carey has a phobia about motorcycle riders.
I liked it, though it was a bit on the frothy side. The opening chapters evoke the horror of emerging from a bank vault and finding your boss dead, then finding corridors full of dead, then streets full of dead. A few chapters and couple years later and she meets a fellow survivor. The premise is perfect. The execution is okay, it's basically love among the ruins. It was a defiant, cool thing to set a love story in such unpromising surroundings. I waited for the post-collapse mayhem we all know and love in such stories! Alas, love won the day. It felt like a short novel, but it's actually standard length, so the story sails by fast. I enjoyed how this story plays with the rules of an infection-collapse story, and a love story.
This book is short and expensive for the length. Fortunately, I managed to pick it up in a one-day-only sale that brought the eBook down to where I'd take a chance on it. And that worked out reasonably well, all told.
The book is a light survival romance rather than the more moody post-apocalypse type I've come to loathe. Matt and Carey start off alone, three years after most of the population of the planet suddenly died. The timeframe is a bit odd as it takes the sting from the survival as they've both managed to get things mostly under control by this point. Indeed, Carey is returning to Portland after snugging into the coast, returning mostly in an exploratory, see if anybody is there kind of way. Matt has built himself a relatively ritzy setup leveraging his electrician training and the mild climate for his comfort. So most of the heavy-duty survival is in the past leaving this story mostly a romance with an interesting setting.
The most interesting aspect of both characters is the feeling Smith harbors of how deeply alone they are, and the lack of a basis or foundation for trust they find themselves in. No laws, no help, nothing but their own weapons and willingness to defend themselves if they run into someone who wants what they have. Weapons are, perhaps fortunately, plentiful but that cuts both ways so, again, how do you build trust even if you do manage to find other people? I really liked how this worked out and how both were cautious and open about their caution.
And I liked both Matt and Carey quite a bit, though together they're a bit unlikely. I mean, two competent, mutually attractive people of the exact same age finding each other in abandoned downtown Portland. It's a stretch, even if neither can quite believe their luck. I had a hard time believing it, too. Smith is quite good, however, so getting over this hurdle didn't take long. Fortunately. And they're both great characters, wonderfully written.
The plot meanders, but that's not unexpected in this type of story. More unexpected, though, is the lack of drama. While there's plenty of danger and planning and option-considering, and some major developments and surprises, not a lot actually eventuates. Good planning and being careful pays off, I suppose, but I found myself both relieved and just a little let down when so much anticipated trouble fails to happen.
All told, this is a solid 4 stars and a lovely fun read. I like the setup and I'll gladly pick up following stories, assuming the prices ease a bit. This is supposed to be the setup for a series and I hope that materializes.