Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: Without Warning by John Birmingham

I have a couple reviews I'd forgotten to post about books I've read recently.  Here's the first one.

 I just went looking for After America , the sequel to Without Warning, in the Kobo e-book store because I want to know what happens next. There were a few times, tough to resist, where I was at work and feeling very tempted to hunch over my desk with the novel to get through another scene of this gripping book.

I loved the "Axis of Time" trilogy, although Birmingham wasn't able to maintain the same level of inexorable momentum through all three books. As an aside, the chapter of Weapons of Choice detailing the arrival of the multinational fleet to 1942, dropping right into the midst of Admiral Spruance's fleet bound for Midway, and the ensuing confused naval battle, is one of my favorite scenes in literature.

Without Warning manages to keep the same edge-of-your-seat and desperate-to-know-more tension that the early parts of Birmingham's first trilogy established. It starts immediately, just before the onset of the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq in 2003, with a wounded and disoriented woman in a hospital bed in France, her confusion becoming more profound as news reports come over a TV of an energy wave that has destroyed most of the population of North America. The US military, almost entirely overseas when this event occurs and the most powerful force in the world, is suddenly adrift without any civilian government direction.

Just like that, the world's one true superpower is gone, and the dominoes start to fall. Without the US there to balance the scales, nations go to war, economies crash, populations starve and factions fight for control of governments.

Even the events you can see coming with the relentless slide of international relationships manage to shock. The fear of a tragedy happening is one thing (such as hurricane Katrina relentlessly moving toward New Orleans) but the reality of that tragedy happening is quite a different feeling. It's DREAD versus HORROR, and Without Warning manages to make the reader feel both these things.

Some of the characters are difficult to empathize with, such as Jules the smuggler, or Caitlin the black ops assassin, but others truly shine. The POVs of Admiral Ritchie and Seattle city engineer James Kipper are the standouts of the book. Ritchie in particular may have the most sphincter-tightening exchange of dialogue in the book when he meets with an Israeli ambassador.

In the end, the new world order to which the reader and characters are becoming used to is suddenly turned on end, setting up a sequel that promises, if not the same sense of desperation, a similar level of tension and shock.

Great book.

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