Tag: post-apocalyptic

Directive 51

Directive 51 by John BarnesWell, now that I’ve recovered from the post-election jitters, I have four words, followed by about 400 words:

This. Book. Terrified. Me.

Directive 51 is a grim near-future science fiction thriller charting the disintegration of modern civilization, which segues into a tale of how pockets of survivors in the US draw together and how these new-born factions see their role in rebuilding the US, and what kind of a US they have to look forward to. Honestly, reading this in the early stages of the 2016 election probably made it particularly depressing, but I definitely am taking a break from thrillers and grim stories and tales of disintegration for a while. On the other hand, I greatly enjoyed this book, as uncomfortable a vision as it portrays, and hope to read the next two books in the series someday as well, partly because I want to know how it turns out on the political struggle level, and partly because I want to see how human civilization adapts technologically and societally to the post-Daybreak world.

The book is a series of scenes from many different viewpoints, both from the perspective of Daybreakers and the government agents trying to stop them. At first this was jarring, especially because the first few scenes are introductions that don’t establish a whole lot, but after each character had had a few scenes I had settled into it.

One thing that was very interesting is the depth that Barnes has put into Daybreak and their tactics, strategy, and technology. Daybreak is a fairly interesting concept for a terrorist organization, and the strategy behind it and the general strategy of the Daybreak master plan was very interesting for me. The biological science and engineering practices behind the Daybreak nanoswarm and biotes is also really interesting, and terrifying because it seems so plausible. And in general, the story has a lot of warnings about the dangers a modern globalized capitalistic society poses when it falls.

The title of the book is a little misleading, honestly. You might expect the drama to be about Directive 51 itself. In reality, most of the first half of the book is about Daybreak itself as it is enacted, the middle is about how things disintegrate, and only the very endgame of the book is about the consequences of Directive 51. Additionally, the book can be hard to stick with, as often scenes stretch on for longer than I would like. Definitely read a few pages before picking it up.

Cover Art Review: Honestly, not a huge fan. It’s very washed out, does not convey a sense of place, and it’s not entirely clear which character that is or what moment that is. But it does convey the mood of the book very well, which I suppose is the most important thing.

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Damnation Alley

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As the author himself tells us, it is the setting, more than anything else in the entire world, that demands regard. The two coasts of the United States were largely spared the wrath of the nuclear war that destroyed global civilization, but the great plains were reduced to irradiated wasteland, known as Damnation Alley. The world’s ecology was also irreparably damaged, with all kinds of critters being massively mutated, and a massive global windstorm tearing across the globe, picking up detritus and raining it down again.

While the setting is the star, Hell Tanner is interesting. A former Hell’s Angel boss, Tanner is turned loose and strong-armed into a desperate mission of mercy. He must drive across Damnation Alley to deliver a vaccine from LA to Boston, where a plague is devastating the population. No noble anti-hero, his attitude provokes some interesting reactions throughout the book.

The plot itself is functional, a plausible excuse to start the journey and carry it through. There are some really evocative scenes, but generally the world feels drab and flat, in a way that is appropriate to the setting. The car is probably the second most important character, and is suitably badass and suited to the world, although the question of how they put it together with such short resources is unanswered.

I have read a few short stories by Roger Zelazny since reading Damnation Alley, and for large portions of the story, it doesn’t feel much like Zelazny’s writings, at least in the other works I’ve read. That’s not an indictment, just a notice of difference. There are portions where that Zelazny style peeks through in portions that are not written from Hell Tanner’s viewpoint. Additionally, the battle cars vibe definitely feels Zelazny-ish. But all in all, while the writing style contributes to the drab feeling of the world and is smartly done, it is still drab and common for much of the novel.

The split perspectives are functional, but nothing particularly great. The meat of the story is the world, the challenges Tanner encounters, and how he and his car overcome them.

Obligatory Kindle Note: I read this on a Kindle.

Cover Art Review: We have a masterpiece here. Make sure to pay attention to the small details: the broken road and scattered bones; the cockroach in the foreground; the giant armored insects in the background; the ruins looming in the fog; the muted palette; stylish slashing font of the book’s name…