by John Birmingham
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345502896
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Many people hate America. But, is a world without America a world that you want to live in? Author John Birmingham gives us a world where America is taken away. At the height of power and authority just before the 2002 invasion of Iraq, the "wave" appears and wipes out every living creature in most of North America.
The small pockets of remaining Americans fear many catastrophes. Survivors near the edge of the phenomena don't know if the wave will move or expand. The Hawaiian Islands are isolated and no longer receive normal food supplies. US Military forces are all over the world with no central command structure or Commander in Chief. Militant Muslims view this change as an act of Allah and act accordingly. Israel feels more threatened by its neighbors. Many are scared and some are emboldened, this novel tells how the world reacts through the eyes of a few surviving Americans.
Without a few spoilers it would be difficult to discuss this novel. Skip this and the next paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled. The big event in the whole book is the "wave". Unfortunately, it is never revealed just what it is and where it came from. This makes it an "Alien Space Bats" event. That doesn't ruin the novel, but it does detract from it a little. Readers will be left wondering if America caused this itself, one of her enemies did this, Allah played a hand, or aliens got bored and decided to have some fun. A positive part of the book is that the author is willing to have characters die if it serves a purpose. There are no superheroes that can do the ridiculous and survive unscathed.
I liked this book. The pace was good. There were interesting characters. The story develops from an interesting premise. I enjoy the world as it is torn apart and in some ways coming together. The small person points of view told the story well. This is similar to the form that Harry Turtledove used effectively in his Timeline 191 books. Although not as destructive, the fundamental change was similar to the device used by S.M. Stirling in his Emberverse series. Science Fiction has a long history of using stories to discuss real problems.
John Birmingham can write. While his Axis of Time trilogy is a must read for alternate history fans, Without Warning is just a must read. He gives the world a view of what they want, but then makes them wonder if it is what really should want. I look forward to the continuing of the story, and you will as well.