I’ve read all of William Fortschen’s books. They’re among the best of apocalypse fiction, a genre dominated by potboilers, so naturally, I preordered this book. My big question was if the author could write something new, especially since at first glance it appears the apocalypse in 48 Hours is very similar to the EMP found in Fortschen’s most famous book, One Second After. Without giving the story away, I can tell you this book is quite original. And to me, the most interesting matter that Fortschen covers, indeed the plot driver of the entire book, relates to a long-running apocalypse concern of mine. Namely, that the government, at any level, is not our friend, and would be our enemy in any real crisis where someone has to lose.
For some time now, I have been telling my children, none of whom have ever lived through any event that significantly harmed America, that sooner or later, history will return. The older ones roll their eyes; the younger ones have no idea what I mean. This book shows what I mean, through a fictionalized look at a 2020 nuclear attack by North Korea on South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
As can be seen from a casual glance at my book reviews, while I read little fiction, I am keenly interested in science fiction. Sadly, almost all contemporary science fiction is mere social justice agitprop. But there is some quite good relatively modern science fiction, and in particular, I am fond of (no surprise, I suppose) what is commonly called the “Dying Earth” genre, after the name used by Jack Vance in the 1950s. This book, The Pastel City, published in 1971, fits squarely into this genre, but is distinguished by the gem-like quality of its writing, elevating it above the average pulp of late twentieth-century science fiction.
Leviathan Wakes is extremely well written, with a tight plot and carefully chosen prose. This alone separates it from the vast majority of today’s science fiction. Nor is it tendentious message fiction, further separating it from most modern science fiction, which is all about the navel-gazing identity of the characters, mostly as thinly veiled metaphor for present-day political conflicts. Thus, the taut, straightforward story here has broad appeal, which is doubtless is at least part of the reason it has been serialized into a TV series (on SyFy), called The Expanse. I haven’t seen the series, but if it is reasonably faithful to the book, it is probably very much worth watching. Most importantly, it shows how a modern version of Manifest Destiny could work, a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Captain Blood, to the extent it is mentioned today, is remembered as a 1935 movie that made the career of Errol Flynn. The story was originally this novel, published in 1922. It is the story of an Irish physician who, in the late Seventeenth Century, settles in the southwest of England, in Somerset, after wandering the world for a decade. He is caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion, in which a bastard son of Charles II rebelled against James II and lost the 1685 Battle of Sedgmoor, the last battle fought on English soil. Captain Blood (his name is Peter Blood; the title is not a nickname, as one might think of a pirate novel), treats a man wounded in the battle. He is therefore dealt with as a traitor, even though he took no part in the rebellion itself, but his death sentence is commuted to being sold into slavery in Barbados.
Most bad books have some redeeming feature. This one doesn’t. Ernest Cline’s first book, Ready Player One, was quite good for what it was—an exercise in Eighties nostalgia, aimed at people like me who came of age in that golden time. Armada is an attempt to further capitalize on that nostalgia, but it’s more reminiscent of a creepy, jobless stalker who skulks every night outside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, begging her to give him one more chance, because, after all, didn’t it used to be so good?
In the distant past—five months ago—I believed our country could heal its divisions. Sure, we’d always have disagreements, and sure, our new President was always going to be unpopular with a lot of people. But, after all, he had won a democratic election. The Left would regroup, consider why its offerings had been rejected, and perhaps dial back its extremism. But I was wrong. The Left has instead doubled down on hatred. This was shown yesterday, when the fear and anger created and nurtured by the Left over the past two decades, deliberately whipped to a fever pitch in the past months, caused the first attempted political assassinations of Republican Congressmen. In this harsh light, the split of the country originally posited by Kurt Schlichter in People’s Republic no longer seems as unrealistic as I thought in my November 2016 review of that book. As Schlichter accurately says, “Yes, the Left hates Trump, but its hatred is really for us.”
I’m a sucker for apocalyptic fiction. Probably, similar to many doom-and-gloom conservatives, deep down I see myself as bestriding the Apocalypse like a colossus, Bible in my left hand and short-barreled AR-15 in my right. Of course, intellectually I realize that actual apocalypses are very, very bad for everyone involved, so my self-image is buried deep in my id, not a goal I have set for myself. Moreover, my strong belief is that, while it may not be evident yet, the era of apocalyptic fiction is ending, to be replaced by a new literature of optimism and pursuit of excellence. A few months ago, I thought that switch would be quick and smooth. Now, I suspect it will happen slowly over piles of bodies, with the only question being how tall those piles will be. In the meantime, though, we can enjoy The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver’s excellent, and mostly pessimistic, book about the near future collapse of America.
The right to be armed is the right to be free! This call, like the battle cry of the Archangel Michael, Who is like God?!, echoes down the ages of Man. If you are not armed, you are always wholly at the mercy of tyrants. Who can argue with such a truism? A lot of people, actually. For the phrase does not, in fact, echo down the ages of Man. It dates only to 1941, when this book, a now obscure science fiction classic, was first published—and the principle itself is not much older. So, rather than making this review the pro-weapons screed my (few) readers doubtless expect, I will explore the principle itself—in particular its limitations within a conservative philosophical framework.
This is a very famous book, not quite children’s fairy tale and not quite adult allegory—or rather, it’s both, and more. As fairy tale and as allegory, it has so light a touch as to be ethereal, combined with a feeling of enormous substance. There is, for child or adult, little obvious moral, yet the reader is left with a feeling of transcendence. Quite an accomplishment in what is really just a short story, and doubtless why the book is still famous today.