What would happen to our world today if all of a sudden the USA would cease to be? That is the premise of the book Without warning by John Birmingham.
*** WARNING!! SPOILERS !! WARNING!! ***
On the brink of the Iraqi invasion in 2003 something inexplicable happens: an energy wave slams into the North-American continent, turning every higher organism into a pile of jelly. This Wave, as it is referred to, seals off the larger part of the USA, Canada and Mexico and Middle-America. No human or animal is capable of crossing the boundary of this Wave. Remote controlled drones can. The how and why of the Wave is not explained. That is not necessary nor important, the story is about what happens to the world if it’s last surviving superpower disappears.
Birmingham describes what happens, broadly from two perspectives. One viewpoint is from a general world perspective: what happens to our world in geopolitical reality, commercial and environmental sense? What if the richest and most industrialized part of the world vanishes from one second to the next? Millions of cars suddenly have no driver anymore and continue until they are stopped somehow. Thousands of household appliances run unchecked and cause fire. Huge industrial complexes have no human oversight anymore. Nuclear reactors show glitches, and nobody responds to correct the problem. Within days unimaginable huge fire storms rage the North-American continent. There are no fire departments anymore to respond. Some nuclear meltdowns occur. Coriolis effect moves an extremely polluted atmosphere across the Northern halve of our world.
What happens to our world in geopolitical terms? China carries the burden of the American budget deficit, and now her debtor is gone. Political turmoil sweeps the country and with it revolution. Israel’s backer and protector is gone, what will this country do to prevent annihilation? Same with her Arab neighbours. Europe and South-America disintegrate for the same reason: the stabilizing influence projected by the US is gone. It is the eve of the Iraqi invasion. The most powerful military land army under US command is situated in Kuwait and Saudi-Arab. They have no political leaders anymore, no home, no logistics and, very soon, no supplies anymore. What will they do?
Not all of the US is hit by the wave. Seattle, in the far North-East near the Canadian border lays just outside the boundary of the Wave. Alaska, Hawaii with its naval base, and Guantanamo Bay are still there, as are the US embassies all over the world. And there are millions of US citizens all over the world for various reasons, who are not caught up in the Wave. There is an embedded journalist in the US dominated army in Saudi-Arab. There is a female secret agent in Europe on a mission, which is now everything but important; or is it? A smuggler trying to stay alive at sea, a civil engineer in Seattle, who is drawn unwillingly into a political power game, the military commanders of Guantanamo Bay and the Iraqi invasion army who have to make political decisions. All these individuals are somehow caught up in the global upheaval caused by the Wave.
I think Without Warning is a very exciting and interesting story. Many events described are very plausible, although I have my doubts about some consequences of this fictitious Wave event . The story lines about the individual American citizens trying to stay alive in a hostile world binds us to the story on a personal level. A very nice touch is the use of real politicians, most of them who still hold power today.
In an interview John Birmingham said, that he received inspiration for this story after seeing many people cheering in the streets after 9/11. Even if it is fiction, I found it very interesting to read about a world without the last remaining super power. There are 2 sequels planned, I am curious how Birmingham will continue this story.