Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Directive 51 - John Barnes


Directive 51
John Barnes
Ace

Science Fiction

There’s a growing segment of society today that strives to live as “green” as possible. In the near future, parts of that segment find themselves ever more desperate to save the planet, and society, by going back to what they feel were simpler times with better values. They’re not content with simply making the changes in their own lives; they want to make the changes for everyone. They feel that going back to an essentially agrarian society will knit together families and groups more tightly. They feel this will solve many of the ills of the world. Their plan is called Daybreak, and the plan is to destroy or disable virtually all forms of technology, known collectively as the Big System.

Each person is given one small task to accomplish. Many Daybreakers don’t know about any others. Many have different aims. Some want to go back to ‘family values,’ some have political or religious beliefs that require the destruction of the current society. Some just want to live a more simple life. In what amounts to a de-centralized, grass roots movement, the Daybreakers begin their sabotage in their own little corners of the world on a specified day. After that, events take on a life of their own. Some Daybreakers release nanotech that destroys anything plastic. Others use self-replicating biotech that turns any petrochemical product into sludge. And still others have far more dangerous weapons at their disposal.

During the relatively short time it takes for global communications to go offline, those in positions of leadership do their best to keep things afloat. For some, it means keeping civil order in cities full of panicked people. For others, it means attempting to keep a constitutional government intact. When the rest of the world is falling apart, people need to feel that there’s still someone in charge. It doesn’t matter how terrified or defeated those people may be; the appearance of a captain at the wheel is what matters.

On one level, this novel can be read as a sort of end-of-the-world, apocalyptic story. On another level, it’s very much a political thriller. The cast of characters is quite large, and the author managed to write a character-driven story fueled by Big Ideas. Each person is affected differently by Daybreak. Even those individuals who participated in Daybreak experience it and its aftermath in their own ways. Following each set of characters gives the breakdown of technology and the effects on groups and individuals a real immediacy.

This could well be the way our current world ends, and that’s pretty frightening. The way a society crumbles is far less inherently interesting than the ways in which the survivors persevere or despair. Here, we see various people reacting in varied and realistic ways. There will always be those who try to turn a tragedy into a moneymaking operation; there will be those who try to consolidate personal power; there will be those who simply give up; and there will be those who decide not to lie down and allow events to run over them. All of these people are represented here. There’s clearly more story to tell, more questions to answer, and more installments on the way.

Rating: 8 ½
April 2010
ISBN# 978-0-441-01822-2 (hardcover)

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