I have long been a John Birmingham fan. From the cult classic HE DIED WITH A FELAFEL IN HIS HAND to the brilliant LEVIATHAN: AN UNAUTHORISED BIOGRAPHY OF SYDNEY and the more recent techno-thrillers in the AXIS OF TIME trilogy. While all of these books are diverse they are all equally entertaining at the same time as being compelling and informative.
JB made his name as writer with non-fiction, what he proudly calls his “gonzo journalism” inspired by Hunter S. Thompson. For an example of how great his non-fiction is you can look no further than his collection OFF ONE’S TITS or check out one of his three blogs (Blunt Instrument, Cheeseburger Gothic or The Geek). LEVIATHAN is easily the best Australian history book I have read. It is a history of Sydney told thematically rather than chronologically. It is a refreshing and insightful way to present Australian history and should be a must read in schools. JB is currently working on an updated edition.
In 2004 Birmingham made the leap from “gonzo journalist” to thriller writer taking on the likes of Matthew Reilly, Michael Crichton and Stephen Coonts. JB has always been a fan of what he coined as “techno-thrillers”. From the seriously good ones to ones so ridiculous they can’t help but be brilliant. His first book in this genre was WEAPONS OF CHOICE which was about a naval armada in the not to distant future that is sent back in time to World War Two after a freak accident. This fundamentally alters not only the course of the war but human society. Followed by DESIGNATED TARGETS and FINAL IMPACT. This series combined superb action writing and black humour with a totally original alternate history scenario that was focused on societal and political upheaval rather than military strategy alternatives.
Two years ago JB took it up another notch with WITHOUT WARNING. This thriller took a premise that I’m sure most of us have at least thought if not debated amongst friends. Would the world be a better place if America disappeared? Set on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, a mysterious energy wave wipes out all of continental USA leaving an energy bubble that no living thing can cross. The fallout is catastrophic and the world is turned on its head. Again situations you wouldn’t have considered (but make complete sense) are raised and to say the action is explosive is an understatement. I can’t think of any other action/thriller that is as politically imaginative as this book.
So it was with much excitement that I read AFTER AMERICA. Set four years after WITHOUT WARNING, the endless permutations of a world where America has been wiped out are further explored. The political situation is tense as the surviving Americans attempt to resettle and reclaim their continent, by any means possible. Impossibly the action is even more intense and the humour even blacker. Central to the story is The Battle for New York which is epic and ferocious. The violence is not for the faint of heart. It makes a Matthew Reilly book look like a kids’ books. Forget a movie, this would make an awesome video game but it would be so violent they would probably ban it! Multiple points of view are expertly juggled and interlinked. Each separate narrative is worthy as book on its own and I literally tore through the pages to get to the end.
Check out a trailer for AFTER AMERICA here