Fiction Reviews

Darkest Days

(2007) Stanley Gallon, Pan, 6.99, pbk, 516pp, ISBN 978-0-230-0-1599-9


This near techno-thriller starts with Air Force One crashing into the sea with the President aboard. Everyone is killed. The Vice President is sworn in - a man with strong ties to big business, and it is well-known that he and the former President did not see eye to eye. Less than a month into the new administration 'terrorists' set off two nuclear devices on the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park. Seven million die immediately, and millions more are displaced while scientists predict a Nuclear Winter, not from the nukes but from the eruption. The new President retaliates against 'terrorist sponsoring states' dropping several nukes. At least 37 million more die. But a business opportunity has arisen for the country willing to fight on a nuclear battlefield in order to secure the oil. The US are first in, but the Russians and Chinese are not far behind. But, after months of isolation in the Sudanese desert, Lt Adam Burch is starting to worry about his missing parents. A military coup in the US succeeds only in killing Congress and the Senate, all power rests with the executive branch, with the President. So why, with so much power at his disposal, is the President mainly interested in finding Adam Burch's father? What loose end is being tied?

As if you could not guess... Which is the only real problem with this novel. It's all well-enough written, but for some sketchy characterisations, and zooms along at the kind of pace you would expect for a book like this. But it is predictable and you will have worked out everything by mid-way through at the latest. The backdrop of the eruption in Yellowstone, and the brief nuclear conflict thereafter, never really rises above the level of background. The story being told here is one about a drug-taking, business-minded man staging a bloodless coup, which becomes less bloodless over time, finally being brought to book by the military (who had been standing around nuking people, far too busy to remove a nutter President). So the 'revelations' are finally dragged tediously onto the page, the President blows his brains out, and the book ends. So the planet is at war, the environment is ruined, but everything's going to be OK because the US is back under 'normal' control. With a US election in the offing, one can't help but wonder if this book is, in fact, a parable of our times, or would that be too cruel to suggest? On this evidence such subtlety is probably beyond Gallon, but this will fill a few hours if you are stuck in an airport or something. Just don't expect too much.

Tony Chester

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