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Without Warning Audio Download – Unabridged

3.9 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Format: Hardcover
14 March 2003. The world watches on as the United States and her allies prepare for the controversial invasion of Iraq. What happens next is totally unexpected: a field of energy materialises over the North American continent, stretching from north-east of Newfoundland to just north of Acapulco, and from just south-east of Seattle to a few miles north of Guantanamo Bay. Virtually the entirety of the continental United States, most of populated Canada and almost all of Mexico and Cuba are affected. Within the 'Wave', as it becomes known, every single living being is instantly incinerated, but the cities are left intact. However, the Wave remains, sealing off the continent to outsiders.

The United States government is annihilated, leaving its military - the overwhelming majority of which is on deployment outside the affected zone - leaderless. Hawaii, Alaska and the tiny surviving portion of Washington State attempt to keep the American flag flying, but the effective loss of the strongest nation on Earth is catastrophic. The world economy goes into meltdown and elements in the Middle-East, proclaiming the Disappearance to be a miracle, prepare for a cataclysmic showdown with Israel, now bereft of its most powerful benefactor and protector. Smoke from the burning American cities turns into a massive plume of toxic smog which encircles the northern hemisphere. As the weeks pass, ethnic tensions begin to tear France and the United Kingdom apart. Iran musters its forces to destroy the US forces in the Gulf. China's threatening moves towards Taiwan are abandoned when its internal economy, dependent on exports to the USA, collapses. Japan and South Korea finds themselves overstretched having to feed Hawaii. Australia and New Zealand are swamped by American refugees.
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Format: Hardcover
John Birmingham's latest novel wastes no time launching its premise: on March 14, 2003, as the world awaits the impending start of the Iraq War, a massive energy bubble appears in North America, instantly wiping out every lifeform within it. In the weeks that follow, the world faces the consequences of the loss of the world's sole superpower. The military attempt to preserve order in the unaffected remnants of the United States, Saddam launches an attack on the now-stranded American forces, and a cloud of pollution created by the burning of hundreds of U.S. cities wreaks untold environmental damage.

The unfolding story makes for a sharp contrast with Birmingham's previous work. His "Axis of Time" trilogy: Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1 (Axis of Time Trilogy 1), Designated Targets: World War 2.2 (Axis of Time Trilogy 2), and Final Impact: World War 2.3 (Axis of Time Trilogy 3), told of the story of a near-future battlefleet suddenly transported into the midst of the Second World War with a tinge of levity. As in the earlier series, he tells of events through a collection of strongly defined characters: a spy, a civil engineer, a pair of military commanders, a smuggler, and a reporter. Unlike his earlier works, however, the humor is absent as he takes an appropriately grimmer tone in detailing the unfolding horror of a world facing disorder and collapse.

The events that follow make for a gripping read.
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Format: Paperback
Genre wise, Without Warning could probably best be described as a bit of a hybrid. It takes the best elements from a standard Clancy-esque thriller as well as a nice, inexplicable science-fiction macguffin and throws them together to create a page turning mash-up of the two. Events begin to unfold in an alternate 2003. Large portions of the US Military are poised to invade Iraq when in a single second, 95% of the American population vanishes. In their place, is a huge impenetrable energy wave that covers most of the US mainland.

Chronologically, things are split into a number of sections that follow the moments leading up to `the Disappearance', as it comes to be known, and its immediate aftermath. There are also chapters set a week after, a month after and finally, a year after. I was a little concerned at the prospect of this, fearing that these jumps were going to miss big chunks out of the plot. I needn't have worried however, nothing feels jarring and the split over multiple time periods actually allows more ground to be covered. This allows for some good insight into the longer-term effects of the situation.

I was reminded a little of the premise from Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer, certainly events have a similar tone. An unexplained event occurs that effects the entire planet, and the story that follows covers various different reactions and perspectives to that event. It also feels like there is an episodic nature to the different strands of narrative, almost like you're getting half a dozen short stories for the price of one. It's particularly good when the separate character arcs intersect with one another. The moments when characters you are already familiar with meet for the first time is always fun.
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