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Without Warning
John Birmingham
Del Rey, 504 pages

Without Warning
John Birmingham
John Birmingham was born in 1964 in Liverpool UK and migrated to Australia with his parents in 1970. He grew up in Ipswich, Queensland. He attended the St Edmunds Christian Brother's College in Ipswich, and the University of Queensland in Brisbane. His only stint of full time employment was as a researcher at the Defence Department. After this he returned to Queensland to study law but he did not complete his legal studies, choosing instead to pursue a career as a writer. He currently lives in Brisbane.

John Birmingham Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Axis of Time Trilogy
SF Site Review: Axis of Time Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

"These bastards may never get within a bee's willy of us, but if they do, I want to kick them so hard that their goolies pop out of their eye-sockets."
Without Warning is the first of a new trilogy, which, unusually for the genre, has nothing to do with WW II or the American Civil War. During the worst excesses of the Bush regime, many people around the world found themselves wishing that America was gone. This book speculates what might happen to the world if that actually occurred. As premises go, it's an interesting one, and very adroitly handled by John Birmingham.

The setting is March 14, 2003, where US armed forces are poised to invade Iraq. In an instant, there is a major and catastrophic change. A mysterious wave of energy appears with no warning, standing miles high and encompassing much of Canada, Mexico, half of Cuba and almost the entire United States. All life caught within the standing wave vanishes, leaving vast areas unattended, and instantly impenetrable except by unmanned drones. The only Americans left alive are those overseas when the wave struck, the military outposts in Pearl Harbour and Guantanamo Bay, plus the city of Seattle which stands just outside of the wave.

Rather than getting bogged down with the science-fiction physics of the premise, the author wisely concentrates on the effects in the world outside of what was America. Early on, we discover that cars within the affected area, aircraft and ships passing through the wave, some en-route when it hit, continued along their path without passengers or crew until they crashed. Inside the now lifeless America, unattended electric devices in thousands of homes start fires, and power plants begin to melt down. Before too long, entire cities are engulfed in fire-storms, which the survivors beyond the wave are powerless to stop.

Meanwhile, in the Middle-East, those opposed to America and her allies see the event as the will of Allah, and rejoice that the 'Great Satan' has been struck down. Unfortunately for them, what is left is infinitely more dangerous, as the rules have changed. Now, there is no United Nations to appease, and no civilian chain of command and control to reign in the world's most powerful military force. Worse still, there is no one capable of exerting a calming influence on the fear and fanaticism of Israel, whose leaders state they will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against any and all whom they perceive as a threat to their existence. Concurrent with the big picture that Birmingham paints, are several smaller but no less interesting stories featuring individual level experiences. We ride with a party of ocean roving smugglers, who through sheer good fortune find themselves in possession of Greg Norman's super yacht, which emerges from behind the wave minus the Great White Shark and crew. We see the effect of US society on the brink through the eyes of James Kipper, Chief Engineer of Seattle, who struggles to restore normality among his terrified countrymen, and curb the excesses of a military without civilian command. Meanwhile, Brett Melton, a veteran reporter, is out in Iraq, and then France, covering life on the front line. We also look over the shoulder of Caitlin Monroe, an American agent on a deep cover Echelon anti-terrorist mission in France, who finds that she is suffering from a brain tumour, as the country descends into civil war. These, and other smaller stories, combine with the overall themes to paint vivid, often riveting scenes of life after the fall of America.

Birmingham's publisher describes this work as a 'fast, furious story of survival, violence and a new reality.' I would add that it also provides an ingenious insight into what might actually happen, if American military, political and economic influence were suddenly and drastically diminished. The fact that the author is an Australian helps in a number of ways, the most import of which are his outsider's perspective, and greasy realism; noxious clouds from burning American cities, currency collapse, mass panic, survival of the fittest, and the triumph of the human spirit all help to make Without Warning an absolutely cracking read.

Copyright © 2009 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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