There must be a thousand ways for civilization to come crashing down around our heads. You can always depend on good science fiction writers to come up with horrifying scenarios about a world reset. John Barnes has produced a doozy with his new Daybreak trilogy. The first two installments are out, and I’m going to have to wait until 2012 to read the third and final chapter. It’s the perfect time to get on board this exciting techno-thriller.
It’s the final Young Bill Young’s Summer Reads post for the year, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that the current temperature in OKC is a sweet 83 degrees! Labor Day really was the end of summer this year!
Barnes’s Daybreak series is part end-of-the-world horror story, part post-apocalyptic adventure, and part political speculation. The collapse of civilization in Directive 51 is caused by a movement known as “Daybreak”—an Internet-connected group of diverse people (ranging from eco-crazies to stewardship Christians to disgruntled techno-geeks) who have only one thing in common: they all want to bring the Big System down. The release of nanoswarm and biotes destroy rubber, plastics and oil products, and the destruction spreads rapidly around the planet, causing a dramatic and quick end to modern civilization. Following the initial collapse of modernity, Daybreak rears its head with additional poxes that are aimed at making sure Earth stays primitive, including radiation bombs that are set off in strategic locations.
While the reader is given some of the gore that follows America’s collapse, Barnes is more interested in what happens to America following such a scenario. Enter National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51 (it actually exists), the plan that “claims power to execute procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a catastrophic emergency.” Despite the directive, it doesn’t take long for the two political parties to flex their muscle, with opposing governments set up in Athens, GA and Olympia, WA. Meanwhile, an informational and research arm of the “federal government” is operating out of Pueblo, CO, charged with disseminating information via steam train to pockets of people around the country. (Are you old enough to remember those Federal Citizen Information Center ads asking you to write to Pueblo for free federal government brochures? Turns out they still have all of that information!)
As the first novel nears its close, the two governments are actually contemplating war with each other, as if Daybreak wasn’t bad enough. It will take the wisdom of protagonist Heather O’Grainne (administrator of the Pueblo operation), the skills of a surviving reporter, and the Socratic Method to try to spare what’s left of America.
The sequel Daybreak Zero opens only two months after the final events of Directive 51, and one year since the first catastrophic events known as Daybreak. In this second installment, we learn that tribes have formed across the country to battle any re-emergence of civilization. We learn that a new Post-Raptural church has emerged that is preparing for the tribulation. More importantly, we learn that Daybreak must be the deadliest meme ever. Those who have incorporated the ideas of Daybreak actually have seizures when trying to go against the meme. And Daybreak is infiltrating the governments of Olympia and Athens, and the research institute in Pueblo.
Some reviewers criticize the “one-dimensional” aspect of Barnes’s characters, but I didn’t find them to be so. No, you will not read pages and pages of philosophical, social and psychological ruminating by the individual characters. But you do get enough insight into the characters to give a damn about what happens to them. And, anyway, this is a story about people who are trying to stay alive while they attempt to bring back some kind of stability to their crumbling world. The meaning of life for these characters, is the meaning of survival.