Australian author Birmingham (Axis of Time) explores an unusual and intriguing scenario: immediately before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an unknown radiation engulfs the North American continent from Canada to Mexico, destroying all animal and human life. Suddenly the U.S. is reduced to Alaska, Hawaii and part of Washington State, along with several million citizens overseas. Birmingham concentrates on several small groups of survivors-a Seattle city engineer struggling against an army takeover, a yacht carrying survivors to Australia, a spy hunting a Muslim fanatic in the midst of a French civil war-and contemplates how various countries would react to the power vacuum. This well-thought-out alternate history will appeal to fans of hard SF and techno-thrillers. (Feb.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Without Warningby John Birmingham
In Kuwait, American forces are locked and loaded for the invasion of Iraq. In Paris, a covert agent is close to cracking a terrorist cell. And just north of the equator, a sailboat manned by a drug runner and a pirate is witness to the unspeakable. In one instant, all around the world, everything will change. A wave of inexplicable energy slams into the continental United States. America as we know it vanishes. From a Texas lawyer who happens to be in the right place at the right time to an engineer in Seattle who becomes his city’s only hope, from a combat journalist trapped in the Middle East to a drug runner off the Mexican coast, Without Warning tells a fast, furious story of survival, violence, and a new, soul-shattering reality.
As the world waits for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a massive high-energy wave washes over an area that reaches from Canada to Mexico, destroying all life in its wake. Suddenly, the world must do without its greatest power. A few fringe survivors rise to the occasion as many people succumb to panic in a world seemingly gone mad. The author of the "Axis of Time" trilogy (Weapons of Choice; Designated Targets; Final Impact) brings his sf thriller technique to a mainstream technothriller that should have broad appeal outside the sf crowd. A good addition to most thriller and sf collections.
“John Birmingham’s ability to seamlessly merge the gritty realism of Tom Clancy with the raw speculation of Michael Crichton is like no other author I’ve ever read. Brilliant, nail-biting, thoughtful, and excruciatingly pertinent to our times, his latest novel, Without Warning, is simply a tour de force, a true classic in the making. It should be required reading for the entire world.”
–James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Oracle
“What would happen if America vanished? Some would like to find out, but John Birmingham’s Without Warning suggests that the Pax Americana would soon be sorely missed. It’s a gripping story, for Americans and non-Americans alike.”
–Glenn Reynolds, InstaPundit
“Delivers all the action and techno-detail that any Clancy fan could wish for.”
–Robert Buettner, author of Orphanage
“A modern, even postmodern alternate history where the people who wish the United States would go away get what they wished for, and the consequences are meticulously, horrifically worked out in compelling detail through the eyes of a medley of interesting, well-developed characters and tightly plotted action.”
–S. M. Stirling, author of Island in the Sea of Time
Praise for John Birmingham’s Weapons of Choice
“Weapons-grade military techno-thriller . . . [Birmingham] describes military hardware with an exuberance and virtuosity that’s positively Clancyesque.”
“Birmingham’s enthralling battleground mixes provocative historical fiction and socially conscious futurism.”
From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt
By John Birmingham
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris
The killer awoke, surrounded by strangers. An IV line dripped clear fluid through a long, thick needle punched into the back of her right hand. Surgical tape held the silver spike in place and tugged at the fine blond hairs growing there. The strangers—all women—leaned in, their faces knotted with anxiety, apparently for her. But she stared instead at her hands, which lay in her lap on a thin brown blanket. They looked strong, even masculine. She turned them over, examining them. The nails were cut short. Calluses disfigured her knuckles, the heels of both palms, and the sides of her hands, from the base of both little fingers down to her wrists. The more she stared, the more unsettled she became. Like the women gathered around her bed, those hands were completely alien to her. She had no idea who she was.
“Cathy? Are you all right?”
“Nurse!” somebody called out.
The strangers, three of them, seemed to launch themselves at her bed, and she felt herself tense up, but they simply wanted to comfort her.
“Doctor. She’s awake,” one of them said in French.
She felt soft hands patting her down, stroking her the way you might comfort a child who’s suffered a bad fright. Cathy—that wasn’t her name, was it?—Cathytried not to panic or to show how much she didn’t want any of these women touching her. They looked like freaks, not the sort of people she’d want as friends. And then she remembered. They weren’t her friends.
They were her mission. And her name wasn’t Cathy. It was Caitlin.
The women were dressed in cheap clothing, layered for warmth. Falling back into the pillows, recovering from an uncontrolled moment of vertigo into which she had fallen, Caitlin Monroe composed herself. She was in a hospital bed, and in spite of the apparent poverty of her “friends,” the private room was expensively fitted out. The youngest of the women wore a brown suede jacket, frayed at the cuffs and elbows and festooned with colorful protest buttons. A stylized white bird. A rainbow. A collection of slogans: Halliburton Watch. Who Would Jesus Bomb? And Resistance Is Fertile.
Caitlin took a sip of water from a squeeze bottle by the bed.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked. “What happened to me?”
She received a pat on the leg from an older, red-haired woman wearing a white T-shirt over some sort of lumpy handmade sweater. Celia. “Auntie” Celia, although she wasn’t related to anyone in the room. Auntie Celia had very obviously chosen the strange ensemble to show off the writing on her shirt, which read If you are not outraged you are not paying attention.
“Doctor!” cried the other older woman, who had just moved to the doorway.
Maggie. An American, like Caitlin. And there the similarity ended. Maggie the American was short and barrel-chested and pushing fifty, where Caitlin was tall, athletic, and young.
She felt around under her blanket and came up with a plastic control stick for the bed.
“Try this,” she offered, passing the controller to the young girl she knew as Monique, a pretty, raven-haired Frenchwoman. “See, the red call button. That’ll bring ’em.” Then, gently touching the bandages that swaddled her head, she asked, “Where am I?”
“You’re in a private room, at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris,” explained Monique. “Paris, France,” she added self-consciously.
Caitlin smiled weakly. “’Okay. I remember that Paris is in France.” She paused. “And now I am, too, I guess. How did I get here? I don’t remember much after coming out of the Chunnel on the bus.”
The large American woman standing over by the door to her room— Maggie, try to remember her fucking name!—turned away from her post.
“Fascist asswipes, that’s how. Attacked us outside of Calais.”
“Skinheads,” explained Monique. “And you were magnifique!”
“Oh yes,” the French girl enthused. She looked no more than seventeen years old, but Caitlin knew her to be twenty-two. She knew a lot about Monique. The others chorused their agreement. “These National Front fascists, Le Pen’s bullyboys, they stopped the bus and began pulling us out, hitting and kicking us. You stood up to them, Cathy. You fought with them. Slowed them down long enough for the union men to reach us and drive them away.”
“Workers,” Maggie informed her. “Comrades from the docks at Calais. We’ll meet up with them and the others in Berlin. For the next rally, if you’re up for it. We really gotta keep Bush on the back foot. Mobilize the fucking streets against him.”
Caitlin tried to reach for any memories of the incident, but it was like grabbing at blocks of smoke. She must have taken a real pounding in the fight.
“I see,” she said, but really she didn’t. “So I beat on these losers?”
Monique smiled brightly for the first time.
“You are one of our tough guys, no? It was your surfing. You told us you always had to fight for your place on the waves. Really fight. You once punched a man off his board for . . . what was it . . . dropping in?”
Caitlin felt as though a great iron flywheel in her mind had suddenly clunked into place. Her cover story. To these women she was Cathy Mercure. Semipro wave rider. Ranked forty-sixth in the world. Part- time organizer for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a deep green militant environmental group famous for direct and occasionally violent confrontations with any number of easily demonized ecovillains. Ocean dumpers, long-line tuna boats, Japanese whale killers. They were all good for a TV-friendly touch-up by the Sea Shepherds. But that was her cover. Her jacket.
She took another sip of cool water and closed her eyes for a moment.
Her real name was Caitlin Monroe. She was a senior field agent with Echelon, a magic box hidden within the budgets of a dozen or more intelligence agencies, only half of them American. She was a killer, and these women were—for a half second, she had no idea. And then the memory came back. Clear and hard. These women were not her targets, but they would lead her to the target.
Caitlin cursed softly under her breath. She had no idea what day it was. No idea how long she’d been out, or what had transpired in that time.
“Are you all right?”
It was the French girl, Monique. The reason she was here, with these flakes.
“I’m cool,” said Caitlin. “Do you mind?” she asked, pointing at the television that hung from the ceiling. “I feel like I’m lost or something. How’d the peace march go?”
“Brilliant!” said the redheaded woman. Auntie Celia.
She was a Londoner with a whining accent like an ice pick in the eardrums. “There was ’undreds of thousands of people,” she said. “Chirac sent a message and all. Berlin’s gonna be huge.”
“Really?” said Caitlin, feigning enthusiasm. “That’s great. Was there anything on the news about it? Or the war?” she continued, pointedly looking at the television.
“Oh sorry,” muttered Monique as she dug another controller out of the blankets on Caitlin’s bed. Or Cathy’s bed, as she would have thought of it.
A flick of the remote and the screen lit up.
“CNN?” asked Caitlin.
Monique flicked through the channels, but couldn’t find the news network. White noise and static hissed out of the television from channel 13, where it should have been. She shrugged. There was nothing on MSNBC either, just an empty studio, but all of the French- language channels were available, as was BBC World.
“Can we watch the Beeb then?” asked Celia. “Me French, you know, it’s not the best.”
Caitlin really just wanted to carve out a couple of minutes to herself, where she could get her head back in the game. Her injuries must be serious, having put her under for three days, and although her cover was still intact, she didn’t want to take any chances. She needed to reestablish contact with Echelon. They’d have maintained overwatch while she was out. They could bring her back up to . . .
“Eh up? What’s this then?” blurted Celia.
Everyone’s eyes fixed on the screen, where an impeccably groomed Eurasian woman with a perfectly modulated BBC voice was struggling to maintain her composure. “ . . . vanished. Communications links are apparently intact and fully functional, but remain unresponsive. Inbound commercial flights are either returning to their points of origin or diverting to Halifax and Quebec in Canada, or to airports throughout the West Indies, which remain unaffected so far.”
The women all began to chatter at once, much to Caitlin’s annoyance. On-screen the BBC’s flustered anchorwoman explained that the “event horizon” seemed to extend down past Mexico City, out into the Gulf, swallowing most of Cuba, encompassing all of the continental U.S. and a big chunk of southeastern Canada, including Montreal. Caitlin had no idea yet what she meant by the term “event horizon,” but it didn’t sound friendly. A hammer started pounding on the inside of her head as she watched the reporter stumble through the rest of her read.
“ . . . from a Canadian airbase have not returned. U.S. naval flights out of Guantánamo Bay at the southern tip of Cuba have likewise dropped out of contact at the same point, seventy kilometers north of the base. Reuters is reporting that attempts by U.S. military commanders at Guantánamo to contact the Castro government in Havana have also failed.”
Caitlin realized that the background buzz of the hospital had died away in the last few minutes. She heard a metallic clatter as a tray fell to the floor somewhere nearby. Caitlin had a passing acquaintance with the Pitié-Salpêtrière. There had to be nearly three thousand people in this hospital, and at that moment they were all silent. The only human sounds came from the television sets that hung in every room and ward, a discordant clashing of French and English voices, all of them speaking in the same clipped, urgent tone.
“The prime minister, Mr. Blair, has released a statement calling for calm and promising to devote the full resources of the British government to resolving the crisis. A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed that British forces have gone onto full alert, but that NATO headquarters in Brussels has not yet issued any such orders. The prime minister rejected calls by the Social Democrats to immediately recall British forces deployed in the Middle East for expected operations against the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
“That’d be fuckin’ right,” Auntie Celia said quietly to herself.
The reporter was about to speak again when she stopped, placing a hand to one ear, obviously taking instructions from her producer.
“Right, thank you,” she said before continuing.
“We have just received these pictures from a commercial satellite that passed over the eastern seaboard of America a short time ago.”
The screen filled with black-and-white still shots of New York. The imagery was not as sharp as some of the mil-grade stuff Caitlin had seen over the years, but it was good enough to pick out individual vehicles and quite small buildings.
“This picture shows the center of New York, as of twenty-three minutes ago,” said the reporter. “Our technical department has cleaned up the image, allowing us to pull into a much tighter focus.”
Caitlin recognized Times Square from above. She quickly estimated the virtual height as being about two thousand meters, before the view reformatted down to something much closer, probably about five or six hundred feet. The Beeb’s IT guys were good. It was a remarkably clear image, but profoundly disturbing. Her brief curse was lost in the gasps and swearing of the other women. Fires, frozen in one frame of satellite imagery, burned throughout the square, where hundreds of cars had smashed into each other. Smoke and flames also poured from a few buildings. Buses and yellow cabs had run up onto the sidewalks and in some cases right into shop fronts and building façades. But nothing else moved. The photograph seemed to have captured an unnatural, ghostly moment. Not because they were looking at a still shot of a great metropolis in the grip of some weird, inexplicable disaster, but because nowhere in that eerie black-and-white image of one of the busiest cities in the world was there a single human being to be seen.
The lower reaches of the Cascades never failed to impress James Kipper. Dropping his backpack for a five-minute rest and a drink of water, he rewarded himself for the morning’s trek with a moment staring down the long, deeply wooded valley up which he had climbed. Snow lay in patches along the well-beaten trail, and dropped in wet clumps from the sagging branches of fir and pine that covered the gentle slopes below him in a dense green carpet. He loved it out here. Nature was so powerful, the hand of man so light, you could have been hundreds of years removed from the twenty-first century. The brisk but unseasonably sunny morning had made hiking up the remote valley a rare pleasure for the senses. The air was fragrant with sap and the rich brown mulch of earth warmed by sun for the first time in months. A breeze, just strong enough to set the treetops swaying, carried the natural white noise of a nearby stream, running heavy with an early melt. As he stood at the edge of a small plateau he could imagine the landscape below dotted with castles and mounted knights. He was the father of a little girl just lately in school; knights and castles and fairy tales were seldom far from his mind these days.
Kipper sucked in a draft of air so clean and cold it hurt all the way down into his chest. But it hurt good. The temperature hadn’t snuck much past the mid-fifties, but he was well dressed for the hike, and could even feel sweat trickling down the inside of his arms. Another mouthful of icy spring water added pleasantly to the discordant sensations of feeling both hot and cold. His breath plumed out in front of him, and his stomach rumbled, reminding the engineer that it had been four hours since his last substantial meal, a bowl of pork sausages and beans cooked over the coals at his campsite a few miles farther downrange. Kipper unzipped his Gore-Tex jacket and fished around inside for the protein bar he’d stored in one of the many pockets before setting out that morning. It would be satisfyingly warm and chewy by now.
He frowned at the buzzing in one of the pockets. A second later the trilling of his satellite phone punched him back into the real world. The phone was a concession to his wife, Barb. Three days a year he was allowed to run around in the woods by himself, but as a former New Yorker, Barb had “issues” with his “nature-boy shtick” and insisted that if he was going to go commune with the elves he should at least take a sat phone and GPS locator beacon with him. “So we can find your body before the coyotes and buzzards are finished with it,” she said.
Excerpted from Without Warning by John Birmingham Copyright © 2009 by John Birmingham. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
John Birmingham is the author of Final Impact, Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice, He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, How to Be a Man, The Search for Savage Henry, and Leviathan, which won the National Award for Nonfiction at Australia’s Adelaide Festival of the Arts. Birmingham is also the recipient of the George Munster Prize for Freelance Story of the Year and the Carlton United Sports Writing Prize. He has written for The Sydney Morning Herald, Rolling Stone, Penthouse, Playboy, and numerous other magazines. He lives at the beach with his wife, daughter, son, and two cats.
From the Hardcover edition.
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I really enjoyed this book. I was introduced to John Birmingham's work via his earlier trilogy (Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice and Final Impact), and enjoyed them all. I would compare him favorably to mainstream authors like Clancy, Coonts and James Cobb. His characterizations are better in this book, and his narrative flow is smoother than his prior work. If you like action, strong characters, a great storyline and a sense of impending doom and idiots getting what they deserve, this one's for you.
The first chapter gets you hooked and evey one after has a twist that makes you want to start the next one A.S.A.P. I had trouble putting it down when I knew I should be going to sleep. The surprise ending has me wanting the next book A.S.A.P. A great entertaining read.
What would the world be like without virtually all of the United States gone, except for a few million people and most of our military resources? And the military is not too interested in a coup and prefers to act under civilian leadership, nearly all of which is gone? Find out this author's idea in this book, then mull over how your view is different.
That's the question that this book takes a stab at. After a mysterious energy bubble engulfs the majority of the North American continent the world quickly begins it's downward spiral. Civil war errupts in the France splitting the country along ethnic lines. Britain seals itself off and begins mass deportations of foriegners. The world economy collapses as the dollar loses all value. The Middle East explodes in violence. Piracy spreads across the open seas. And the remnants of our military are left trying to hold things together. While handling the evacuation of survivors, an attack by Iraq on our deployed forces in the Middle East, and trying to maintain law & order in the surviving areas of America, the military is pulled in every direction and faces some tough decisions. This is the first book in what promises to be an amazing trilogy!
Would have given this 2.5 stars if I could have. There are too many unconnected storylines in the book. Some of the stories are actually kind of interesting, but just as you get interested in one storyline, the author decides it's time to devote 50-75 pages on some story that isn't particularly good. Had to resist the urge to just skim ahead.
I really enjoyed his previous trilogy (Designated Targets, Weapons of Choice and Final Impact), which is why I read this book. His books are interesting, enjoyable, and ones which make you think of the "what ifs". I also enjoy how he takes real world people, places, and technology to morph it into his new world. In this book, he covers different people at different levels to show how they have to cope in a new world. It is truly the survival of the fittest! I enjoyed this book and look forward to book 2!
In 2003, WITHOUT WARNING American military forces are preparing for Operation Desert Freedom deployment when an energy field that rises miles into the sky covers much of the forty-eight continental states, Canada, Mexico and Cuba like a thick blanket. Almost every animal life including humans trapped inside is dead; in almost seconds billions of Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, and Cubans are turned into ooze.
Around the globe there is shock and fear. The only major American city to survive the carnage is Seattle, which was fortunate to be outside the massive eradication zone. Still the emotional impact leaves the city and its burbs near collapse. City engineer James Kipper tries to deliver some semblance of civilization by keeping the essential support services working although rioting is common and the military consider martial law. In Hawaii, also outside the dead zone, Admiral James Ritchie leads the powerful American navy, but against no known enemy with no command and control beyond him. Israel considers nuking its Arab neighbors since the Americans no longer are there to require restraint. France has a civil war while Britain shuts down the islands. The aftermath is civilization around the world is rapidly deteriorating as ugly incidents are everywhere as only the deviously strong will survive.
The opening act of a world reacting to an apocalyptic disaster is fast-paced and filled with action as John Birmingham¿s global nightmare shows the aftermath to what begins to happen when the superpower vanishes WITHOUT WARNING. Ironically with the biblical proportions of the catastrophe, Darwinism comes to mind as survival of the fittest means the previous Americanized rules of order no longer apply. Although this is the set up for first tale, fans will appreciate Mr. Birmingham¿s deep dark saga of a world in radical change due to an unforeseen calamity that has survivors reeling for cover with differing reactions.
I was intrigued with the concept of the plot and am looking forward to the next in this series!
Explores what would happen to the world if America was incapacitated. An intriguing concept.
If you notice all the negative reviews are from people who dont realize this was not a stand alone book, but a trilogy. Great example of what can happen if we let totalitarianism take over.
I'm not going to recommend it for my book club, but it was a lot of fun to read.
The idea of this book was interesting, but there was too many running storylines. I couldn't wait to finish the book... to end the boredom. The author took a lot of time to develop characters, but I felt the pace was too slow. When the book ended, it was obvious there would be future books, but this book felt unfinished.
Thought provoking - very good read!
This book combined my favorite book themes: End of the World storyline, lots of military theatrics, and characters that you want to get to know/ recommended if you lije these tyoe of story!
The last John Birmingham book I read was "The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco" and it was one of the funniest things I'd ever read. I guess JB didn't want to be pidgeonholed by that and "Falafel", because this may be a lot of things, but funny isn't one of them. Intense, gritty, bloody and pretty disturbing it is. Not something you'll put aside between chapters and forget about.
Great story. Well written.