Review: “Without Warning” by John Birmingham

Cover of Without Warning by John Birmingham

John Birmingham has followed up his highly-successful Axis of Time trilogy of military thrillers with another “ripper yarn” novel, Without Warning: America is Gone. It’s a good read, but not as good as it could be.

Like Axis of Time, which posited a 21st-century naval task force suddenly finding itself at the Battle of Midway and the final volume of which I reviewed earlier, Without Warning is alternative history. One the eve of the 2003 Iraq War, an unexplained energy field obliterates all human life across most of the United States. As the world realises the last remaining superpower is gone, the novel tracks the political and military conflicts which emerge through the eyes of characters ranging from a US general at Guantanamo Bay to a female assassin working undercover in France.

My perceptions of Without Warning are coloured by Katie Harris’ comment that my recent Gonzo Twitter effort was like Hemingway. I still haven’t read any Hemingway, but I’ve been thinking about writing styles. In a previous review I described William Gibson’s noir prose as “a richly textured cabernet merlot” in comparison with the “slab of VB” simplicity of Adrian d’Hagé’s action thriller. Birmingham’s writing is another slab of VB. It’s a fast, easy read without too many difficult words or complex metaphors to slow you down.

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Another Tale of Two Thrillers

Covers of The Beijing Conspiracy and Spook Country

One of my six special vices is reading thrillers, often very trashy ones. So it was an especially wonderful pleasure to read two thrillers in a week — from opposite ends of the trashiness spectrum.

Adrian D’Hagé‘s action thriller The Beijing Conspiracy is like demolishing a slab of VB with mates on a Friday night. It’s loud, fast-paced and perhaps a little clichéd. But it’s great fun and you know you’ll be back for more. I ploughed through it in less than 24 hours.

By comparison, William Gibson‘s Spook Country is like a richly textured cabernet merlot. Take it slowly to appreciate the subtleties, and your time will be generously rewarded.

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