Without Warning

Without Warning

by John Birmingham

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345502902
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/06/2010
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 346,795
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 4.30(h) x 1.19(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Louis Rossetto had a strange effect on people. He was like a magnet whose grip increased dramatically at close range. Listeners might be dismissive at a distance, and dubious as he opened his mouth, but then he pulled them in and held them close. He always seemed to be better informed than anybody else in the room. He had sources from Afghanistan and contacts in Sri Lanka. He knew Dutch, Italian, and Portuguese. Because he was so coherent, and because when he had made his point he fell silent and waited calmly for a response, Louis had a peculiar way of compelling his acquaintances to express agreement with things that they were not really sure of. This could be embarrassing later and sometimes even made people swing the other way and say they hated him.

John Plunkett was unnerved the first time he got a glimpse of Louis through the window of an elegant office building on the Quai d’Anjou, in Paris. John was a big man with a deceptively placid expression. Normally he worked as a graphic designer in New York City making annual reports for big corporations. “Selling shit on a stick,” he called it. But at the moment John was short on money and looking for a job. He had seen an ad for a designer in the International Herald Tribune, and after scheduling an interview he decided to walk by the office and have a look. Truck traffic paused in front of the building, obscuring his view, so he crossed the street and peered between the drapes. He saw a tiny computer sitting on a desk, with an orange screen and black letters too small for him to make out. In front of the screen a tall man sat completely still, his face expressionless. He looked like some kind of hippie or derelict, out of place behind these old stone walls and six-paned windows. The man suddenly turned toward the street and stared. Something about his unblinking expression, its lack of acknowledgment or human recognition, startled the designer, and he fled. Later John would interpret this encounter as a premonition, but light fades early in Paris in the fall and perhaps Louis Rossetto’s gaze registered nothing because he only saw his own face in the window, reflecting back.

Designers are never implicated, John told himself, after he took the job with Real Invest. Real Invest was a discreet financial operation that offered individual banking services and untraceable European investments for Americans who preferred to keep their capital gains out of the hands of the Internal Revenue Service. Bill Sigal, the owner, would eventually flee Paris one step ahead of the police. John found Sigal to be a slightly threatening person, self- assured and ruthless in his extraction of cash investments from midwestern rubes (whom he called, as a sort of shorthand, “dentists”), but Plunkett’s job was only to redesign the company’s newsletter, called Globescan, and he took no more responsibility for the malodorous quality of the Sigal enterprise than he did for the assertions made to stockholders of his corporate clients.

Later John would describe Real Invest as a “lure for expatriate bums looking for an angle.” On the other hand, were they really bums? The man who had startled him at the window may have been a drifter and an odd duck, a character from another time and a kind of political exile, but he was only a bum if the word conjured meanings beyond mere vagrancy: boisterous anarchism, say, and hatred of authority, and a love of mayhem as a source of both entertainment and sustenance. Add these antiquated associations into the mix, and you still wouldn’t have it right, because the old type of bum—the Wobbly, the hobo, the one-big-union man—was an enemy of capitalism, while Louis Rossetto had a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University, where he specialized in marketing and finance. He was an amateur scholar of the Haymarket riots and a deep reader of libertarian economics. Many years after their first meeting, when their partnership had brought John both international acclaim and a deep sense of personal grievance, he would remember his conversations with Louis as the most interesting he had ever had in his life.

Louis was the editor of Globescan, which he typeset himself using the primitive tools of the new microcomputer industry. In this he was heir to a tradition of profound innovation. His own father had been an employee of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, whose founder, Ottmar Mergenthaler, invented the world’s first commercially successful automatic typesetting machine. The Linotype revolutionized the newspaper business. In the fifties Louis’s father had helped develop one of the first electronic phototypesetting machines, the Linotron, and by the time Louis was a teenager, typesetting had migrated from the noisy floor of publishing plants to production departments or even directly into the editorial offices of small publications.

Louis was well placed to make something of this legacy. By nature inquisitive and stubborn, he had an outsider’s toughness that made him difficult to intimidate. In Great Neck, the Long Island suburb where he grew up, his neighbors had been affluent, Jewish, and politically liberal; Louis was Italian and his family was conservative. Arriving at Columbia in 1967, when the Students for a Democratic Society were attempting to close down the university, he declared himself for Nixon. That year campus revolutionaries battled the police, who beat them along with bystanders. Louis Rossetto watched the Columbia crisis unfold and devoted himself to political study, moving steadily out through the ramifying veins of conservatism until he got to the finest capillaries where the isolatos of the right—the libertarians—mingled with the isolatos of the left—the anarchists. For a short time he was the unlikely president of the Columbia Young Republicans, but he was a shaggy-haired, antiwar troublemaker, out of sync with the party’s mainstream. Eventually, he went to work as a volunteer staff member at an anarchist journal, The Abolitionist. The thing to be abolished was government. Louis stood at the waist-high table, running warm paste over the backs of the galleys. He knew that advances in typesetting meant more than added convenience for typesetters. For him, cheap printing was a tool of revolt, though not the sort of revolt his peers may have had in mind. The New York Times Magazine put Louis on the cover as a representative of a new type of radical. Inside, Louis repeated the libertarian slogan: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what your country is doing to you.”

Disillusion on the left has long been a cliché, but as the decade turned, Louis was influenced by a less publicized trend: disillusion on the right. The right, after all, was the side that really seemed to be losing the revolution. As corporations made peace with the counterculture, and the last of the anti–New Deal, Roosevelt- hating, small-town businessmen entered their dotage, you had to wonder what was going to happen to the untimely personalities who wanted to carry on in the older Republican image: the rugged, storybook individualists; the enterprising moguls-to-be whose rights of accumulation were abrogated by the income tax; the bright young men and women of ’68—of Nixon for President in ’68—whose field of activity was swamped by inflation, stagnation, and Republican price controls. Nobody knew yet what a comeback the entrepreneurial ideal would make. President Reagan was still ten years away.

Louis’s opinion that the government should be abolished did not prevail. As soon as he graduated, he started business school at Columbia, but by the time he emerged he was certain he did not want to work for a boring American corporation. Then came Watergate. This was an exciting development. Social conflict always opens avenues for unusual talents. As the televised hearings unfolded, Louis saw a chance to escape from what he thought of as the corporate draft. His subject was in front of him and in two months he had written a novel. It was a potboiler called Takeover. The premise was a coup by Richard Nixon. It had one sex scene, one chase scene, and extensive political exposition.

In December 1973 the young novelist was out at his parents’ house on Long Island, waiting for a call from his agent. So far there had been no buyers. The temperature was 31 degrees, and it was raining. By midnight, all the trees and branches were covered with an inch of ice, and he lay in his bed listening to the weaker limbs break off. It seemed that he would not escape the corporate draft after all. The next morning, with everything in sight frozen and dead branches a foot deep on the ground, he got his call and found out that a small publisher named Lyle Stuart had agreed to bring out the book. The money was negligible, and Nixon resigned before it came out, ruining the joke, but this was beside the point. Louis would get, after all, his spy’s disguise, his public costume, his word to put on the blank line of the entrance documents when he came and left the country. He was a writer.

For ten years he survived on odds and ends: a few magazine stories, some carpentry. He never wrote another novel, but he always made just enough money and he had extraordinary luck at showing up in zones of conflict that were just breaking down into chaos, circumstances in which a person of courage never has trouble getting a square meal. In the mid-seventies he found himself in Rome, where he befriended Piernico Solinas and ghost-wrote the young assistant director’s book about the making of Caligula, a “sex colossal” written by Gore Vidal, funded by Bob Guccione, and directed by Tinto Brass. Caligula was filmed during the peak of the sexual revolution, when it seemed more or less reasonable for a well-known director to demonstrate the exact manner in which he wanted cunnilingus performed on an actress. The moral of Salinas’s account, Ultimate Porno, is that authority is an illusion, and that established hierarchies are easily hijacked by individuals of conviction and stamina. This was a valuable lesson.

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Without Warning 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 88 reviews.
Tigerjuice More than 1 year ago
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.
HKM3 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Rioghan_Celt More than 1 year ago
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!
Rock_Chalk_Jayhawk More than 1 year ago
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.
Mike_O-Eagle007 More than 1 year ago
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!
harstan More than 1 year ago
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.

Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read..it is something that I have never thought about. With our country just gone, our identity and who we are in the world, is gone as well. I realize it is much more than that but, our basic principles and and who we think we are as a nation is totally gone as well. This story shows us all how vulnerable we are. As a person, as part of a group, as a nation...it could all be gone in a nano-sacond. Then what?
Bilbo2 More than 1 year ago
I was intrigued with the concept of the plot and am looking forward to the next in this series!
Art Hopkins More than 1 year ago
Explores what would happen to the world if America was incapacitated. An intriguing concept.
GiantPegasus More than 1 year ago
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.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not going to recommend it for my book club, but it was a lot of fun to read.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
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SpyderRyderMB More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking - very good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.