This is the first book review I will be posting on Alternate History Weekly Update so I hope you all enjoy it. For my premier book review post I will be reviewing After America by John Birmingham. (Warning: There be spoilers)
After America is the second book in a trilogy that began with Without Warning. That book involved the aftermath of an event known as "The Wave", an energy field that caused the majority of the populations of United States, Canada and Mexico to disappear on March 14, 2003 (on the eve of Operation Iraqi Freedom). All that is left of the United States is Alaska, Hawaii, a small enclave around Seattle and America's oversees possessions. For those who thought the world would be a better place without the United States, Birmingham responds with a horrifying depiction of global economic collapse, ecological disaster and genocidal war. Despite the use of alien space bat plot device, Birmingham created a plausible world from it, which is what I wish more alternate historians would do when using the device.
At the end of the novel, the energy field disappeared opening North America to recolonization. After America begins several years after that. The United States is trying to rebuild while dealing with pirates and scavengers operating out of the abandoned cities of America. Meanwhile, the UK and France are police states, Russia is dealing with a conflict in Central Asia, China is recovering from a civil war and the greater Middle East is a nuclear wasteland following the preemptive nuclear strike by Israel. This world is a dystopia and what is worse is that whenever a character has even a moment of hope it is ripped away from them...often violently.
The focus of the story is on the battle for the New York City. The United States is facing off against a coalition of pirates led by Muslim jihadists. We see the battle progress from the point of view of the President of the United States, a smuggler, an assassin, a Polish-American soldier, a child soldier from Uganda and others. Vicious street fighting occurs as the United States tries to win back NYC block by block.
Now I generally do not like techno-thrillers. I tried a couple of Tom Clancy novels, but could never finish them. I did enjoy Vortex by Larry Bond, which may deserve to be called honorary alternate history, but it was the only one I enjoyed out of the several I tried. John Birmingham, however, saved the genre for me with Without Warning and did not disappoint me with After America. The battle scenes are amazing and you can see the level of research put into the novel. More importantly, there is no forced optimism that some authors put into their novels. Bad things happen to our characters and even after victory many are left wondering whether it was even worth it.
If I had one major complaint to the novel it was the story of Miguel, the Mexican immigrant who takes the opportunity to settle his family in Texas...which is under the control of a rogue, genocidal general. As the story built to the explosive ending of the battle for New York, Miguel's tale would act as speed bumps when Birmingham switched to his point of view. It seems that his tale was meant to set up the story for the sequel Angels of Vengeance, but it meant that we were treated to a tale without a real conclusion and are now forced to wait until the next book in the series.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for those who enjoy techno-thrillers, plausible alien space bat scenarios and post-apocalyptic dystopias.
Next week I will be reviewing Amerikan Eagle by Alan Glenn.