Monday, 3 January 2011

Book Review: Without Warning

Its been a goodly while since I reviewed a science fiction book, although its not long since I read Senator's Son. I tend to read a ratio of about 2:1 in favour of non fiction books these days, so I've ploughed through quite a lot in the interviening time, none of it particularly exciting. For my Christmas break one of the books I purchased was Without Warning, by John Birmingham, it'd been lurking in my Amazon recommendations for quite a while, and I decided I needed some brain candy to suppliment the vast quantities of regular candy I would devour during the festive season.

I'm going to say it, but I usually go in with pretty low expectations about modern fiction (sci fi or regular), particularly when it has a miliary bent. Writers tend to be lazy, and basically just bang out a Vietnam war-esque nonsense, with little consideration for anything else. This book, which is science fiction in flavour, despite taking place in the 2003, is really excellent work.

The premise of the book is pretty interesting, America vanishes. Its pretty much that simple. A huge, incomprehensible wave of energy simply obliterates every human (and primate) from Seattle to Cuba. It leaves behind a wall of energy that no human can cross, cutting off most of the North American continent. The world is then left trying to figure out what the heck to do as the world lurches wildly out of control.

One weakness of the book is that several of the characters are pretty dull. They exist to service the audience's need to see how different parts of the world deal with the situation, leaving them a little two dimensional. However, the majority are really engaging, interesting and lively.

The author really gets into one important concept, if you eliminate the majority of people living on the American continent the a very large number of the Americans left will be soldiers overseas. The military is left trying to pull togeather the remaining population and figure out what to do without a Commander in Chief. The way the book is written suggests the author has taken the time to think about what this would entail, and he uses terminology as if he has actually taken the time to learn about relevant topics.

I wanted to write some spoilers into this review but I think I'll stick with just saying that many things which seem pretty realistic do indeed happen. The focus is pretty broad too, looking at the macro political changes, with certain countries on the rise, and others collapsing. The attempts to consolidate the new American political order (mostly in order to create a Commander in Chief for the military), all are examined in a great deal of detail, without being a grind for the reader.

This book is a well paced and entertaining read. Its utterly fantastical, but somehow keeps its feet on the ground. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants a bit of fun.
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