Without Warning. Book Review

without-warning-john-birminghamWITHOUT WARNING by John Birmingham

Titan Books, p/b, £7.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Often a popular book will fall into one of three categories. It may have a brilliant idea but falls short in the execution or the main premise may be relatively mundane but the use of it lifts the book out of mediocrity. The third option, a brilliant idea and a superb execution is a very rare beast. One can always hope that the bad idea accompanied by the poor writing never actually reaches the public. Deciding where John Birmingham’s Without Warning comes within this analysis is difficult. This is his ninth book and he has picked up a popular following. The idea that is at the centre of this book, and the two which are to follow, is interesting. One day an effect appears over North America, covering all of the United States and a large part of Canada. Any animal life within the affected area ceases to exist. What this phenomenon is and where it came from is unknown. In fact even Birmingham seems uninterested in finding out – it is merely a plot device. The question he wants to address is, what will happen in the rest of the world if America ceases to exist?

Birmingham decides to follow the trials and tribulations of a handful of disparate characters. James Kipper is city engineer in Seattle which lies just outside the zone. Caitlin Monroe is an agent embedded in a protest organisation in order to get close to a terrorist. Tusk Musso is currently the general inn charge of Guantanamo Bay camp. Bret Melton is a journalist in the Middle East to cover the immanent invasion of Iraq. Pete Holder is the only non-American. He is at sea in his yacht which he uses for smuggling. No-where amongst the lead characters is a scientist trying to find the cause of or reverse the effect. It is almost as if no-one cares about this but instead just want to go round killing people.

That is the biggest objection I have of this novel. It is far too gung-ho militaristic. Birmingham is suggesting that if America was no longer a major player on the world scene the rest of the world would descend into anarchy. While there might be some areas of the world that would be happy that the Americans could no longer apply the same influence, it is unlikely that the situation would become such wholesale chaos. Most of the effects are more likely to be economic with countries consolidating their own resources behind their borders before looking to make strategic movements. At no time are we shown strong leadership whereas this would inevitably happen. Everything kicks off far too soon – within days of the event and even if one of the big players, such as Russia or China were behind it we are more likely to see politics to the fore rather than trigger happy street rioters.

This is intended as an alternative history as the events begin on the eve of the invasion of Iraq – which goes ahead because the army generals don’t have the guts to sit down and negotiate. I find the whole scenario very unbelievable and an excuse for the author to indulge in mass murder. It is a book for those who want to steep themselves in blood.

The idea behind the book is a good one, the execution, unfortunately flawed.