Tag: John Barnes

Directive 51 (Daybreak, #1)Directive 51 by John Barnes

So, we all know about the cloud, right? The whole of human knowledge and interaction connected through a big bunch of internet servers stationed all over the planet. Never has so much information been so available to so many. Never have so many comment threads been available to so many trolls.

But what if they aren't trolls? What if this assimilation of information and connectivity allows all the disgruntled patriots/anarchists/skinheads/tea partiers/greenies/terrorists a "room" in which to feed on each others' hatred for the world as it is? And then facilitate their ability to manifest that hatred in a series of attacks that will destroy that world, without any idea of the consequences? Or, as one of Barnes' characters puts it

Whenever some damn idiot starts wanting life to have meaning, he finishes by helping other people to meaningless deaths.

This is the short version, of course, you have to read Barnes' book (the first of three, I've got the second on order and I'm praying he's writing the third one as we speak) to understand what he's getting at here, but in the meantime you'll be on a white-knuckle ride through a sequence of worldwide catastrophes, after each of which you think, "Okay, that's it, his locker's empty, there's nothing else he can throw at these poor people." And then he does.

Of course a terrorist group piggybacks onto the Daybreak attacks, as they are called, and then there is that mysterious...nah. Won't spoil it for you. In the meantime, we drop in on a whole bunch of likeable, capable people who are doing their best to support and defend the Constitution and keep the US from dropping into complete chaos. The main character is Heather O'Grainne, head of the department that discovers Daybreak just too late, who winds up being sort of the enforcer for the guy who becomes essentially the constitutionally provided for (yeah, you read that right) dictator of the US. There is a terrific journalist character, Chris, through whose eyes we see what's going on around the country, but Heather is at the center of everything. We also get to follow the Daybreakers around and then see in horrific detail the kind of death and destruction they are wreaking, sometimes to themselves, because you just know a lot a people are going to be out for someone's blood. And then we get to drop in on those affected, the people who are trying so hard to pull their families and communities back from the edge (love Pale Bluff, Illinois). And the right wing nuts (or not) creating personal fiefdoms (you'll love the Castle Movement), and the politicians who sort of personify that old adage, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

There has been a fashion in dystopian literature lately (Hunger Games, Madeleine E. Robins' The Stone War, Susan Beth Pfeffer's The World We Knew series, Diana Peterfreund's For Darkness Shows the Stars, to name just a few), but this is the first book I kept looking up from and wondering how I'd do if the world ended tomorrow but I survived. I'm okay for water, I'm on a well. Oh wait, it's got an electric pump. I've got a wood stove, I'm okay for heat. Oh wait, I don't own a chain saw, or even a hatchet. I've got canned goods and a freezer, I'd be okay for food. For a while. So then I thought, okay, I need help, but why should anyone who can survive take me in, what skills do I have to offer? And then I remembered: I can knit. Wow. I'm so in.

Spooky and powerful book. An exemplar of the "if this goes on" sf genre, and better than any horror story I ever read for scaring the bejeezus out of me. Can't wait to read the next one.

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Losers in SpaceLosers in Space by John Barnes

It's a couple of hundred years in the future and mankind has created a society free from want. Everyone is rich, no one is hungry or without shelter. What's the catch?

There's nothing to do. Except sit around and watch the meeds, which most do.

So Susan Teraville (aka Crazy Science Girl) and her other loser friends decide to stow away on the milk run of the Virgo, a cargo ship in orbit between Earth and Mars, and make themselves famous enough to become official celebrities, with their own meeds, for which they will get paid more than for sitting around doing nothing. (Some people are just never satisfied.)

As you might expect from a novel by John Barnes, all does not go according to plan, beginning with an accident (or was it?) that kills most of Virgo's crew and knocks her way off course, followed by a subsequent series of mysterious accidents (or are they?) that whittle down the losers down one at a time. Coping with disaster teaches Susan and her crew that maybe they aren't the losers they or their society thought they were, and the last chapter is is maybe the most satisfying revenge fantasy I've ever read.

A lot going on here, including interpolatory chapters called "Notes for the Interested." Barnes writes

In the main text, I'll explain only as muc as a reader needs to follow the story; if it's just more cool science upon which you may wish to geek, I'll package it in a Note for the Interested. You ca read the whole book and follow the story without reading a single Note for the Interested (if you're not interested). On the other hand, if you are interested, they're easy to find.

To paraphrase John Le Carre, this novel wears many hats upon its head. First off, it is a slam-bang action adventure story, a Tom Swift novel without the adverbs and with the tech based in reality. It's an exemplar of the sf "if this goes on" novel--the court case upon which the survival of the Virgo hangs is uncomfortably possible, or it is at least from a conservative perspective. It's a character study, in that it looks at what happens to five distinct character types locked up on a tin can in the middle of a vast expanse of nothing for almost two years, and since the narrative is in Susan's voice it is also an examination of the art and results of command.

Losers in Space would be a terrific novel to teach in high school. Teenagers will really relate to the characters, it's an interesting literary choice, and the Notes are a great first step into can-do science. A fun, fascinating and terrifying read.

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