Ace Books, 2010, 483 pages
It is known as National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51. Signed in 2007, it claims specific Federal powers in the event of a "catastrophic emergency"...
Heather O'Grainne is the assistant secretary in the Office of Future Threat Assessment, investigating rumors surrounding something called "Daybreak." Part philosophic discussion, part international terrorist faction, and part artists' movement, it's a group of diverse people with radical ideas who have only one thing in common - their hatred for the Big System and their desire to take it down. Until Heather can determine whether these people are all talk and no action, she wants to keep this information from going public.
But Daybreak is about to become a lot less secret. Seemingly random events in a recycling facility in Wyoming, on an island off the coast of California, and in Jayapura, Indonesia - where the plane carrying the Vice President has suddenly vanished - are in fact connected as part of a plan to destroy modern civilization.
America is at the dawn of a new primitive age - an age that will eliminate the country's top government personnel, leaving the nation no choice but to implement its emergency contingency program: Directive 51.
I really enjoyed John Barnes's YA SF novel Losers in Space, so I was looking forward to this smart, contemporary post-apocalyptic techno-thriller, in which a conspiracy known as "Daybreak" brings about the end of the world with nanotech viruses and a few well-placed nukes. Unfortunately, while it was smart and long on ideas, the tedious stretches and the political soapboxing marred Directive 51 enough to make me less enthusiastic about continuing the series.
"Daybreak" is an interesting idea — as we witness a vast cabal of unrelated factions of anarchists, environmentalists, Muslim terrorists, Rapture-Ready Christians, and Marxists, all united only by their common desire to burn the current system to the ground and bring an end to modern industrial civilization, one wonders how the hell they can all be part of the same conspiracy. The answer is rather clever.
Once the action gets going, however, Directive 51 becomes as much political thriller as post-apocalyptic survival novel. The (Democrat) President has a breakdown and removes himself from office, thus triggering the Line of Succession. Since the VP died in a terrorist attack, the next in line is a cantankerous old Democrat who promptly turns into a petty little Caesar willing to shit on the Constitution. This triggers a power struggle in which an extremely conservative Republican gains the support even of his political enemies by convincing them that he will put politics aside until America is back on its feet.
So, offered the One Ring of Power, Democrats will grab it with glee and cackle like Gollum, while Republicans will gravely and somberly accept the burden while trying to resist being corrupted.
The politicking does improve somewhat as the book goes on, particularly in the climactic meeting between two rival "Presidents" vying for control over what's left of the United States.
Directive 51 didn't have quite as much hippie-bashing (and nowhere near as much racism) as Lucifer's Hammer, but it was somewhat similar in tone. Barnes is a Big Idea guy and he can write, so I might pick up the rest of this series at some point, but I felt there were too many characters, and while the political tension was deftly executed, some chapters just dragged
Verdict: A smart but somewhat tedious "hard SF" post-apocalypse novel. The ideas are grand and the plot has promise, but Barnes failed to hook me with his overly large cast of characters and his unsubtle polemics.
Also by John Barnes: My review of Losers in Space.
My complete list of book reviews.