What if we visited another planet? What if we encountered an alien race? What if that alien race had three genders—male, female, and both—where the female was subjugated slaves? And what if one of our space travelers was a strong female character with a will to see things change on that planet?
What if. What if. What if. Great science fiction happens because of two words.
John Birimingham undoubtedly asked his own what if. In 2009, he wrote Without Warning, where the majority of the United States is obliterated by an energy wave. Millions die. The result is a changed world, one thrown into chaos. The What If? What would happen to the world if the influence and power of the United States suddenly vanished?
Here is a bit more about the third book in the series, Angels of Vengeance:
When an inexplicable wave of energy slammed into North America, millions died. In the rest of the world, wars erupted, borders vanished, and the powerful lost their grip on power. Against this backdrop, with a conflicted U.S. president struggling to make momentous decisions in Seattle and a madman fomenting rebellion in Texas, three women are fighting their own battles—for survival, justice, and revenge.
Special agent Caitlin Monroe moves stealthily through a South American jungle. Her target: a former French official now held prisoner by a ruthless despot. To free the prisoner, Caitlin will kill anyone who gets in her way. And then she will get the truth about how a master terrorist escaped a secret detention center in French Guadeloupe to strike a fatal blow in New York City.
Sofia Peiraro is a teenage girl who witnessed firsthand the murder and mayhem of Texas under the rule of General Mad Jack Blackstone. Sofia might have tried to build a life with her father in the struggling remnants of Kansas City—if a vicious murder hadn’t set her on another course altogether: back to Texas, even to Blackstone himself.
Julianne Balwyn is a British-born aristocrat turned smuggler. Shopping in the most fashionable neighborhood of Darwin, Australia—now a fantastic neo-urban frontier—Jules has a pistol holstered in the small of her lovely back. She is playing the most dangerous game of all: waiting for the person who is hunting her to show his face—so she can kill him first.
Three women in three corners of a world plunged into electrifying chaos. Nation-states struggling for their survival. Immigrants struggling for new lives. John Birmingham’s astounding new novel—the conclusion to the series begun in Without Warning and After America—is an intense adventure that races from the halls of power to shattered streets to gleaming new cities, as humanity struggles to grasp its better angels—and purge its worst demons.
It is a fantastic “what if” scenario. What would happen if you suddenly mostly removed the greatest power the world has ever known, throwing other countries into a tumultuous time? Who would rise? Who would fall? What would happen to the power hierarchy? Governments? Or the people?
I decided to ask John a few questions about the series and the new book:
NEW RELEASE INTERVIEW: ANGELS OF VENGEANCE BY JOHN BIRMINGHAM
Shawn Speakman: Thank you for joining us on Suvudu, John! ANGELS OF VENGEANCE, the third book in the Without Warning set, comes out today. Tell readers a little bit about all three books and how you came to write them?
John Birmingham: If you want to go right back to the genesis of this series, it was probably when I was a teenager. The first book I ever bought, or I suppose the first book I ever spent my own hard earned money on, was Stephen King’s The Stand. I saved up all of my pocket money and walked a couple of miles into town to buy me a big chunk of summer reading for the holidays. I had no idea who King was, but damn that book was thick and it had the coolest cover. I figured, wrongly, it would see me through the summer. I think I read it in about 4 days, then read it again and again. I just loved it. Ever since I’ve wanted to write my own End of the World novel. So I guess that’s where it started.
But the initial catalyst for this particular series was an argument I got into with a campus nice job back in 1989. (These novels have long gestation periods, don’t they?) I was at a demonstration against the Chinese government for the Tiananmen Square massacre. Ended up getting into a knock down drag out fight with this lunatic from some far left encounter group who blamed the massacre on George Bush senior. At one point he was screaming at me, “We’d all be a lot better off if the world just woke up one morning and America was gone.”
My first thought was, “Jeez you’re an idiot,” but my second thought was, “What a great idea for a book.”
And that’s pretty much it. That’s where the idea came from, although having decided to destroy the world I also wanted to have a little fun with some of my favorite genres. Specifically westerns and spy stories, which is where the characters of Miguel and Caitlin came from.
SS: WITHOUT WARNING, the first book, was published in early 2009, which meant you wrote it in 2008. Did the sudden global financial crisis that began in late 2008 play any role in narrative of the series?
JB: The global financial crisis did frame some of my thinking when I was writing Without Warning, but the book was probably three quarters finished when the market went belly up. I was much more influenced by the riots that broke out in France, which some commentators fashioned as a sort of intifada. They seemed to sit at the nexus of a couple of things which always fascinated me. The idea of societal collapse. The history of cities. The demographic challenge for places like Europe which have encouraged mass migration from sometimes hostile cultures over the past half century or so.
The GFC, however, played a much stronger role in framing After America. In fact I seem to recall the title of that novel occurred to me after reading a lot of financial journalism that seemed motivated by the belief that the American era was over. I didn’t believe it then, don’t believe it now, but it did fit right into the theme of the first book. I don’t often consciously build a lot of metaphor into my work, but those opening scenes where Jed and Kipper are touring the ruins of Wall Street were written in part as a sort of Metaphor 101 lesson for any young readers who might have been interested.
SS: Do you think the series is science fiction? Why or why not?
JB: I probably don’t think of the Disappearance series (that’s my personal shorthand name for the 3 books) as science fiction. To me it’s still closer to being alternate history, with a big sci-fi McGuffin to kick it off. It’s not like the big reveal towards the end of SM Stirling’s Emberverse series (a personal fave BTW). I know what the Wave is, but my poor old characters are never going to be able to figure it out. I love sci-fi. I’m a huge fan of Peter F Hamilton and Iain M Banks, but the stuff I’m writing, while speculative, isn’t really science fiction.
SS: In the America that is left, Seattle is the capitol. Living here, I find Seattle to be the center of the universe! Ever been to Seattle and what made you choose it?
JB: I have been to Seattle. It rained. But still, I love the place. It was one of the few American cities I visited where I could get a decent cup of coffee and stand a chance of wandering into a really good bookshop just by turning a corner. Funny thing was, I hadn’t been to Seattle before I decided on it is the capital of post-Wave America. It got the gig purely by dint of geography. Right place, wrong time. Now here is the funny thing. I spent so much time wandering around virtual Seattle on Google Earth while I was doing my research that when I turned up in person walking around the streets for real provided this weird recurring sense of déjà vu. I knew the place really well even though I’ve never set foot there.
SS: No matter the catastrophe that would bring mankind together, do you think we will always war? Is it part of humanity? Or do you think there will be a time when something so universal happens that people will put aside their grievances and strive to work together?
JB: “Nothing unites the people of earth like an attack from Mars.” I can’t recall in which movie I heard and nodded sagely. At that line of dialogue, and I’m not going to make myself look awesomer by googling it up and appearing to quote it off-the-cuff. But it pretty much sums up my feelings. No, I don’t think we will ever reach the end of history, and history is a bloodbath. That’s kind of one of the central themes of the whole Disappearance series. Having said that, I do agree with Jack Handy that it is the destiny of the human race to ruthlessly enslave the rest of the galaxy. (And I didn’t have to Google that one up at all.) Get working on the warp drive and the photon torpedoes now, I say. We’re going to need them.
SS: With ANGELS OF VENGEANCE out, what’s next?
JB: Well, Angels of Vengeance is done, but there are a couple of characters from that series I simply couldn’t leave behind. So over the next couple of years I’m going to revisit them in smaller, stand-alone e-books. I’ll be doing the same thing with some of my characters from the Axis of Time trilogy. In fact I’m just about finished the first novella from the new AOT books. It’s called Stalin’s Hammer and it’s set about 10 years after the end of Final Impact.
They’re kind of hobbies, however. Kind of like the way that Apple TV was a hobby for Steve Jobs. My next big, ass kicking project is, again, alternate history of a sort. But only of a sort. I don’t even have a decent working title for it yet. All of the files on my desktop are simply called Magic versus Technology. Long story short, because I don’t know how much of this I should be talking about yet, I really hate the way that when demons and dragons turn up in our world, they’re like invulnerable. Bullshit. You ever seen what an assault rifle can do to an orc? Totally shreds them. You got a problem with dragons? Let me introduce you to my old friend the Stinger missile.
Okay, I’m being facetious. It will be a little more complicated than that. And dragons and orcs and flesh eating demons will turn out to be a non-trivial problem when they return to our world. But that’s what makes this new theme interesting to me. If magic did come back into the world, looking to return us to our former status as the preferred fast food source of the demon world, would we be able to defend ourselves with the very special sort of magic we have developed while those evil bastards have been locked up in the under realms for a couple of thousand years? Our very special magic, of course, being science and technology.
The theme interests me. The principal character I’ve been developing to tell the story, a hard drinking, two-fisted fuck up called Dave Hoover, really interests me, because he’s not a conventional killer hero like, say, Caitlin Monroe. And Del Ray’s plans for how we going to published a series really, really interest me. The plan at the moment is for me to write all 3 of them at once, and then release them very quickly one after the other, building up the story world in one big hit. It raises all sorts of possibilities for then playing in that world, either by myself, or with other writers a couple of years down the track.
If you haven’t read this series, definitely try the Excerpt for Without Warning! I’m sure it will lead to you finish the book and its sequel, After America. If you are ready for Angels of Vengeance, click HERE for an excerpt!
Angels of Vengeance by John Birmingham is available in fine bookstores!