After America by John Birmingham

(9.3/10)

The world changed forever when a massive wave of energy slammed into North America and wiped out 99 percent of the population. As the United States lay in ruins, chaos erupted across the globe. Now, while a skeleton American government tries to reconstruct the nation, swarms of pirates and foreign militias plunder the lawless wasteland where even the president is fair prey.

After America is the second book in The Disappearance series by John Birmingham. Without Warning, the first book, was published earlier this year by Titan Books and the last book Angel of Vengeance is already out as well. The Disappearance series is a new take on the apocalyptic story but in my opinion the series is not truly an apocalyptic story per se. As the name of the series implies, there were disappearances. An unknown energy force wiped out only the inhabitants of the North of America leaving virtually everything else still intact: cars, homes, supermarkets, electricity and even the internet. So there is no total destruction going on, just out of the blue 99% of the population of North America disappeared... I think that this actually adds another level of flavour to the story because what you normally see in total apocalypse stories is that you get the tribes and warfare and a lot of improvised technology. Well one thing is in common and that is the lingering tension of warfare, but that is somewhat related to that now North America is up for grabs for the force with the biggest guns…

I was full of praise for Without Warning, it had a great display of what is possible with a backdrop of an apocalyptic story. I was most impressed in how it managed to grab you and pull you into the storyline, this was especially achieved by separating the storyline in both time and space, where you had the consequences of the Wave unfold over several locations on Earth and over a set amount of time. Also with the different places and zooming into the character this produced both an focussed storyline development without letting your mind slip on the consequences on a grander (the whole Earth) level. Now I know what the twist in the end was and by reading the synopsis I bet you can make it out as well. Reconstructing the nation, the Wave passed…

In After America the focus of the story is more on North America and takes places several years after Without Warning, where you had a small emphasis in the Middle East and Europe in Without Warning, the sole focus here is on how to rebuild and resettle what is left of America, though there are a few small explorations to other countries in there as well. The two places in America that are a cause of concern for President Kip are the state of Texas and New York city. There were already pirates present in the first book, one storyline focussed on this part, that caused a lot of problems, now with the lifting of the Wave and making North America accessible again, President Kip is faced with a lot of tough decisions to make. Having just been reinstated and making plans to get the country up and running again, the militant threats are something that he cannot use. In Texas, there is a rogue general Blackstone who is lying cross with the rules that Kip is forcing onto the new America. What does come to notice is that the threats for the U.S. citizens does not solely come from the militant gangs. As shown in the chapters that focus on the things that transpire in Texas, some U.S. citizens can just be a ruthless to each other.

There are several recurring characters besides Kip in After America. You get to meet up again with Echelon special ops Caitlin Monroe, who was sent out to assassinate an important player in the first book and again due to a certain happenstance gets to do her thing again. What is pretty cool to read about her story is, owing that she is not based in America but in England, is a bit of the tech that she gets on her mission and it shows in her storyline that the rest of the world, well Europe at least, is a bit under the influence of the Wave still (having lost a major economic force) but they can get a long sufficiently. Also you see Rhino and Jules who are doing a bit of a freelance job on the side in New York. But next to this the story features some new fresh, some be it short lived, perspectives. With the singular focus now on only two major places of concern, it did feel that a lot more words had been spent on the characters alone, for the recurring cast this did allow for a build-up of personality and for the newly introduced once this gave a more constructed view of each one.

All in all After America delivers a similar punch as Without Warning, be it a bit more reined in. Without Warning showed the global extent of the Wave hitting North America in the first book. In this book there is zoom and focus on some of the consequences and the problems associated with re-establishing America. Having the real narrow focus on the urban warfare that rages around New York and where Kip is trying reassert everything but again John Birmingham broadens the story with Caitlin and the Echelon special ops in different counties. After America shows what John Birmingham does best, delivering a powerful and often times explosive story and it does make you think “what if this would happened to us” question!

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