Friday, December 9, 2011

Daybreak Zero: A Review

John BarnesDaybreak Zero the second book in the series started with Directive 51.

The world at this point, somewhere around 2025, is “collapsed” in a middling sort of way.  A victim of nanotech terrorism, the United States has two largish feuding remnants, and a number of chaotic regions.  The nanotech bugs destroy any plastics, petroleum products or working electronics.  EMP pulse machines are launched from the moon to destroy any radio emitting stations that broadcast at any length.  The net effect is similar I suspect to S. M. Sterling’s Dies the Fires Series:  the key parts of modern technology either don’t work, or don’t work very well.
The story begins with sloppiness.  Former Federal Agent Bambi lets herself finds herself stranded in a wilderness area and takes no precautions to avoid being taken by surprise by the first band of yokels coming along.  That her later rescue is rather perfunctory is fairly typical for the plotting.
There is a number of raider type bands that talk a back to earth jargon and are happy about the collapse.  That anyone would be happy outside of some sort of cannibalistic gang-banger rapist, at this point in a collapse, would be highly unlikely.  Without the use of fossil fuels for plowing and making fertilizer, people would be desperate for food, and those with food would be desperately hiding it.  But the author has to make his villains extra villainous, so of course the bad guys do have some torture and rape types.
But all is not lost.  Various obscure hobbyists come out of the woodwork, and the government releases old camping pamphlets with tips on how to make moccasins and the worst of the crises is averted.  As we noted in our previous review, The actual collapse is somewhat muted with a high element of coziness to it.

There is a continuation of the politicking that went on in Directive 51.  I am not sure what purpose it entails.  As the story continues there is of course an interest to see how the author sees a post-apocalyptic scenario might play out.   But the maneuverings are very detailed.  As are the maneuverings of the various semi-magical (and boring) Daybreaker terrorist spies.  The book starts grinding along so tediously that I came very close to giving up on it.

One of the biggest flaws is Daybreak itself.  I am going to presume there is no great secret hiding in the third book that is yet to be released that will drastically alter my impressions.   Daybreak is a play on the idea of an idea as a virus: a meme.  In this case it is a super meme.  To even learn its nature is to risk being captured by it.  "If we tell you the secret, we would have to kill you."  The meme concept that was introduced by Richard Dawkins over thirty-years ago.  I have seen the concept trashed a number of times, and have always thought the Ideas-as-viruses idea was nonsense.  But apparently some science fiction writers, being ideas people after all, just keep holding onto it.

The abilities of the human part of Daybreak seem to vary from being super ninja one minute to completely mundane the next.  They are given a completely Nazi-like visage to ensure that the reader is not routing for them.  The biggest problem with them is that they are......boring.  Really.  That's it.   Really boring.  Even more boring than the political machinations of the future would be leaders of the remnant United States.  And the future leaders are way more boring than our current crop of wanna-be leaders.

So I think you can tell what I thought of it.  There are a few entertaining moments.  The super boy scout troop is such an obvious nod to the Nivan and Pournelle  troop in Lucifer's Hammer that it actually somewhat worked.  Some of the collapse speculations and ideas are reasonably well thought out.  But in all, it was too long, and lacking any real driving force behind it.  It seems like the type of book were we should be routing for someone, but i am not really sure whom.  Maybe that all the politicians and tribal types kill each other off, and the few remnants can live in some anarchist or libertarian utopia? 

Well on our reality scale (1 to 7 with 7 being most gritty/realistic)  I would say it is a three.   The science fiction element tends to add a certain unreality.  In addition, too much of the action  seems to be driven by the need to keep the political plot going.  They have one functioning helicopter left, and they are going to hold Presidential elections?  On readability, I will give it a 2.  It is insanely long for the actual amount of story being told.   Unless you really love the whole concept behind the book (and some certainly will) you are going to find this hard going.  Since there is almost nothing in the way of concealed symbolism, or overly difficult language I am tempted to go with a 3, but   a book I came close to abandoning due to tedium needs a lower rating.

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