Without Warning (book, John Birmingham, 2013)

From SFX #231.


Author: John Birmingham

Publisher: Titan Books

Without America

On the eve of the Second Gulf War, North America is engulfed by a mysterious energy wave that kills/ disappears everyone underneath it. 400 million are dead, and the world is suddenly without the USA…

What ensues is a mix of Battlestar Galactica, Jericho, and Bourne as Earth is first ravaged by the environmental fallout of the burning of US cities, and then nuclear war. Birmingham follows a number of Anglophones as the disaster unfolds, and that gives you a clue to the spirit of the book; it’s unashamedly pro-American. Birmingham treats his foreigners as either honourable minorities, or the treacherous other. Likewise his women are all lookers with daddy fixations, his Brits toffs or cockneys, anyone who speaks English as a second language says “No?” at the end of every sentence, and his heroes are all over six foot. The scenario is pessimistic and misunderstands the power America holds, as Birmingham has the rest of humanity immediately go into Hobbesian overdrive without the moral US keeping us in check. What the French do is particularly difficult to swallow.

If this makes it sound shite, well it is, but paradoxically, if you ignore the questionable geopolitics, it’s also rather good fun. Beyond the aforementioned foibles, Birmingham’s characters are engaging, his action exciting, his research solid, and he writes really well. Whether you go for the two sequels depends on how much the latter points outweigh the former for you. High mark for entertainment value.

Did you know?

John Birmingham is actually not an American (hard to believe, reading Without Warning. We’ll say he knows his market), but a Brit-born Aussie.


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