24 August 2010

The After America post-mortem

Before I get to the main topic, we had an estimator over to TBH's mom's to look at the foundation (see the last post). Looks like about $3000 when it's all said and done to get the foundation fixed, and not near the labor we thought to do this. Not cheap-but a darn sight better than what we thought.

To the point at hand.

Just finished up Birmingham's latest, After America. And the verdict is....

Well done! The writing is the best I've seen from Birmo. The dialogue and structure of the book were well crafted. The first part of the book especially had a very human feel to it. I really got a good feel of the background of this superpowerless world-and it's a pretty nasty place in a very dire condition. At times, After America is part technothriller, part postapocalyptic epic, part espionage novel, and more than a little bit old-fashioned Western.

Some of After America was clearly inspired by the short-lived US series, Jericho, about an America suffering the effects of a nuclear decapitation strike and the nation's slide into at least a cold war if not civil war. I also saw some of Whitley Streiber and James Kunetka's 1984 book, Warday, with its descriptions of a ravaged New York City, a much-reduced nation, and a western state deciding to go its own way. Also, there were hints of the old 1980s role-playing game Twilight:2000, many adventures of which concerned remnants of the US military surviving in a nuclear war-ravaged Europe and America. Not to say that any part of After America ripped off these works, simply that there were similarities in concept.

Not only did the U.S. suffer from the mysterious 'Wave' which saw its population eliminated. Canada is in much the same condition as the U.S.-depopulated and full of stuff for the plundering. The UK resembles the England of V for Vendetta mixed a bit with Threads-an armed camp with living standards knocked back 60 years. The rest of Europe isn't faring a lot better. The Middle East is gone to glass, as is, one assumes, most of India and Pakistan. Australia appears to be the upcoming superpower. Probably 1-2 billion have died. A bleak and challenging place to live, this post-Wave world.

The characters are fleshed out a bit more, as would be expected in this second book of the series. Of course, there are a lot of familiar names in the book-names like Orin, Atchison, Bochenski, Murphy, Porter, and Bedak, to name a few-JB's good at giving the loyal fans a part in the play, and it's fun to pick them out.

I confess to not caring too much for Caitlin, the superagent, in the first book. Her portrayal in this work was a little bit more-human, I guess. I do think her character, and that of the inimitable Rhino Ross, are a bit over-the-top as far as their abilities and talents go-but somebody has to be the unstoppable hero. Certainly not a major distraction though.

President Kipper I feel some empathy for. He's an engineer thrust into a job he probably would never have aspired to had the Wave not appeared, and he's definitely more comfortable doing things like getting industry and transportation going than he is running wars and rumors of wars.

All in all, good character development.

JB showed a good grasp of what it would take to get a nation like the US going again. It isn't all about the military. Kipper needs to get transport and communications functioning again. Birmingham paid attention to things like having rail lines restored (a transcontinental railroad hasn't been made operational yet, it appears) and the other myriad things that would need to be done to restore America to where it was even in the early 20th century. At least Kipper wouldn't have unemployment to deal with. EVERYONE that lives here should have plenty to do.

A couple of reviewers on Amazon thought Birmingham concentrated too much on detail to the detriment of pushing ths story along. I personally thought the level was about right-I don't need to know every minute detail in every scene, but some detail shows that diligent work and research was done in the writing of After America.

The American version of the book was edited well, with the only trace of British/Australian English being the use of 'torch' for 'flashlight'. A mere nitpick. Probably the most interesting decision I saw was making Kansas City the hub of federal authority in the Midwest. I probably would have picked Omaha over KC. It is, like KC, a transporation hub for road, rail, and river. It also has Offutt Air Force Base and the underground bunker command, communication, and control facilities of Strategic Command. As a practical matter, since Mr. Murphy resides in KC and not Omaha and can best provide descriptions of the former, I can understand the choice of metropolitan area. Plus KC sits smack in the middle of an 'Iron Triangle' with Forts Riley, Leavenworth, and Leonard Wood as the corners, and Whiteman AFB nearby.

The third book of the series should be a humdinger. There is the matter of the rogue ex-general down in Texas to deal with, along with the continued rebuilding of the nation and all the little bands of ne'er-do-wells trying to pick the carcass of the empty US.

While we all talk about 'explodey goodness' (and there was enough to satisfy the average reader), I didn't find After America to be all about blowing stuff up-rather, a lot more on the trials and travails of trying to rebuild a nation while everyone around is trying to destroy it.

After America-recommended! 4/4 mushroom clouds for this. You won't be disappointed!

yankeedog out.


  1. Nice one. I felt the same about Caitlin and Rhino. Said it from the moment I found him, but Milosz was my stand out. Partly because I guess I know a couple of blokes that if you blend them you'd end up with Milosz. One bloke was ex-Bosnian police who was security supervisor of mine and the other was a fella that did my weapons training originated from France and had various military experiences along the way. You could imagine how they talked about the various enemies they encountered.

    I liked this book more than the first. Real keen on the last.

  2. Good review YDog, It's a great read but of course can't wait for the next.

  3. Great review, hope birmo puts bits of it on the back of the next edition.

    Man role-playing game Twilight:2000 I haven't thought about that in years. Used to play it with an old Army buddy. Who unsuprisingly is now a Battery Commander in the Australian Artillery.

  4. OVER THE TOP!?!?! WTF. The Rhino is the very paragon and eptiome of SUBTLETY and GRACE and pretty FRAKIN' AWSM in Havock-speak. If anything his sheer AWSMNESSITY was toned down for the average punk on the street to understand.

    So there.

    For the record ... I'm joking.


  5. Moko-The Milosz character was like some of the Slavic types I've met as well. One of which was a fellow from St. Petersburg who I suspect might have, ummm, known some...interesting entrepreneur types in Russia. He wasn't too keen on Ukrainians (and they probably weren't fond of him, either).

    Bangar-It'll be interesting to see how this all ends up. I always go with the 'main character wakes up and finds it was all a dream' scheme myself.

    Barnesy-I never played Twilight:2000, but I had some of the sourcebooks, and they were pretty well done. Divisions with 1500 soldiers and 6 tanks? Ouch!

    More of a Battletech guy, actually.

    Rhino-We know. I'm sure the editors left out the scene where Rhino grabs two 30mm gatling guns and blazes away, unerringly pulping pirates as he jumps over the Empire State Building, then leaps across the East River, chasing al-Banna across Brooklyn and Queens.

    Enjoy the ride and the moment of fame, Rog. Not everyone gets to be a flamboyant main character in a novel series. And I see Rhino owning an island in the West Indies when it's all said and done.

  6. Really interesting to read your POV. Excellent.

  7. Nat-Well, I do live here, and I can say that most of the descriptions of things American in the book were done accurately. Thanks!