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Book Review

Book Cover

Without Warning


Author: John Birmingham
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99
ISBN: 978 1 78116 603 1
Available 04 January 2013

Without warning, an energy field descends on North America stretching from Hudson Bay, to south of Seattle and northern Belize. Those within the field disappear effectively wiping out most of the continental United States. With the first gulf war about to commence a great deal of America’s military force is out of the country...

Without Warning by John Birmingham is the first in an alternative history trilogy. Birmingham is a British born Australian author of nine previous novels.

With the loss of America the backlash of the catastrophe is felt around the world. Muslim nations see this as divine intervention, which emboldens them to go on the offensive, with the fear of America gone forever fighting breaks out across the globe. Civil war breaks out in France; Israel settles some debts whilst in Seattle the remnant of civil government tries to deal with being cut off from the national stores of food and fuel.

Birmingham has set out to tell a very big story as the whole of the world goes to hell in a hand basket. The way he brings it back to an understandable level, while still continuing the narrative of world collapse, is to tell the story from the perspective of a few specific individuals, army types, smugglers, news reporters, an undercover operative and an unassuming city engineer.

This allows him to mix the very personal with the titanic events through which they are trying to survive.

Birmingham has a good understanding on how reliant the world economy is on the health of its greatest nation, in this case America. A trillion is owed, if that disappears so does banking, banking goes so does the value of money, no money and we are back to killing each other with sticks for our next loaf of bread.

This is not a new idea, many novels and shows have explored how people survive when the trappings of modern civilisation unravel. Some have been more successful than others. Survivors is a case in point, which showed that the middle classes would have the power back on and elections started in less than five years, god help us all.

With such a worldwide shake up and the destruction which would inevitably ensue, Birmingham introduces much of the wider picture through news reports heard by his characters, or reports to military personnel. Here, we are able to peer over their shoulders to witness their horror and desperation. Of course, his major characters are all survivors, either through training or personality and we follow them through the disintegrating situation.

I found the first few pages of the book distracting; mostly because of the portrayal of the English girl’s speech pattern which, even given when the book is set, remains stereotypically anachronistic. Thankfully this only happens in the first twenty, or so, pages, after which he stops thinking that all English people come from the Dick Van Dyke school of conversational English.

What you are left with is a large six hundred and thirty-six page mammoth book which is not unfairly compared to Tom Clancy.

After the initial stuttering of the first few pages the book settles into an engrossing read, as the world falls apart.

I guess the real test of a trilogy is, would I be bothered to read the other two, in this case the answer has to be a yes.


Charles Packer

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