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Near-future apocalypse, the second entry in Barnes' projected trilogy, followingDirective 51(2010).
The entity known as Daybreak, apparently dedicated to wiping out humanity, has released biological weapons that destroy oil and oil-based products such as gasoline and plastics; fusion bombs have killed millions in America and billions worldwide; meanwhile, a machine on the moon continues to fire EMP bombs that destroy electronic devices and components. What remains of the U.S. government has split into two disparate and mutually hostile factions, one based in Washington State, the other in Georgia. Others have built fortified compounds known as Castles where, perhaps instructed and encouraged by Daybreak, they rule as petty tyrants. Other than a few scattered communities of researchers, the remaining survivors have formed weird, anti-technology tribes eager to mount appalling human-wave assaults against fortified positions. But what is Daybreak exactly? A terrorist conspiracy? A hostile artificial intelligence? Or an emergent property, a meme, that attained critical mass, vastly intelligent but without consciousness? Daybreak has no leaders, so cannot be confronted or attacked directly; its agents have infiltrated each of the groups dedicated to defeating it; worse, those that study the phenomenon risk being subverted. The story leaps between these and numerous other scenes, employing a cast of thousands. Add in the sheer density of the narrative and the seeming inability of the good guys to mount any meaningful response. It all makes for a tough slog.
A stunning premise that would have benefited from a lighter approach, less baggage and more focus.