Without Warning (novel)
|Genre||Alternate history, Techno-thriller novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Followed by||After America|
Without Warning, is an alternate history novel written by Australian author John Birmingham, released in Australia in September 2008 and in the United States and the United Kingdom in February 2009. It is the first book in a new stand-alone universe. The novels After America and Angels of Vengeance continue the story.
Birmingham said he was inspired to write the novel after hearing someone during a student demonstration at the University of Queensland say the world would be a better place if the United States disappeared.
References to other works
Without Warning contains a large number of references to popular culture. Birmingham, the author, said that he did this as a nod to American novelist Stephen King:
When I was a kid and started reading big, fat books, the thing that struck me about his novels, so different to the dull, dull things they made us read at school, was they were full of real world references.
On March 14, 2003 a wave of energy washes over North America, wiping out most of the populations of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Cuba. The source is unknown, but it appears that Seattle, Western Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii are unaffected by the disaster.
In Paris, France a woman named Caitlin Monroe wakes up in a hospital after having suffered a head injury during a protest in Calais. Caitlin is an agent with Echelon, a covert group hidden inside numerous intelligence agencies, working undercover with a group of antiwar protestors to find a terrorist named Al-Banna. Caitlin's fellow activists share the news that Jacques Chirac, the President of France, has just refused to offer military assistance to the United States' planned war in Iraq. Caitlin requests to see CNN, but when the TV is turned to that channel, all they see is static; they get the same thing with MSNBC. While tuning to the BBC, Caitlin discovers that she has been unconscious for three days. A BBC reporter is giving a panicked report that an 'event horizon' extends down past Mexico City, enveloping most of the Continental United States, and a good chunk of southeastern Canada; communications links are still up, but non-responsive.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom has ordered all British military forces to full alert, but refuses to pull all British forces out of the Middle East in preparation of combat operations against the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Monroe sees a satellite image provided by the BBC of Times Square in New York City; visible in the image are vehicles crashed into buildings and clogging the streets as fires burn unchecked through the city; however, there are no people in sight.
In Washington State, James Kipper, the chief engineer of the Seattle City Council, is hiking the Cascade Mountains when he receives a call on his satellite phone from his friend Barney Tench, a fellow City Council member. Tench sounds distressed and tells Kipper that the country is gone, along with most of Canada, and that it might be a war or a comet strike. When Kipper presses for information, Tench merely states that 'everything is gone'. He tells Kipper that a National Guard helicopter is on its way to pick him up, and that state government officials are on their way to Seattle as well, but Governor Gary Locke is missing after he was in transit somewhere in the air above the Western United States. In Seattle, Barbara Kipper, James' wife, and their daughter Suzie are at a grocery store as the panic hits from the disaster. People swarm the store to stock up on supplies, and numerous fights break out. Barbara worries that James was taken by the 'event', but she had called the park rangers earlier and they indicated that his hiking plan was nowhere near the 'event horizon'. As sirens signal the approach of police, Barbara and Suzie escape the crowded parking lot.
In Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, US Marine Corps Brigadier General Tusk Musso is mobilizing the guards at Camp Delta, the military prison where terrorism suspects are detained. The Muslim prisoners are in an uproar after hearing of the 'event' that wiped the Americans from the face of the planet. General Musso and his aids quickly surmise that he is the ranking officer, and that while they are in contact with US and NATO forces in Pearl Harbor, Europe, Australia/New Zealand, and CENTCOM in Qatar, they have lost all contact with their headquarters in Tampa, Florida and all US military installations in CONUS. A US Navy officer establishes a link to numerous webcams all over the United States and displays the footage for General Musso and his staff. The images are live feeds of numerous locations, including the Mall of America in Minnesota, Disneyland in Los Angeles, Crown Center in Kansas City, UCLA's Berkeley campus, the Strip in Las Vegas, JFK Airport in New York, and others. In all of the feeds, it is apparent that cars have gone out of control and crashed; fires are burning all over the place; and what should have been people have been reduced to smoking rags where they stood. As gunshots sound inside Camp Delta's prisons (the prisoners rushed a guard detail), a junior marine officer reports to Musso that a Cuban Army delegation has arrived at the gates of the base, panicked and wanting to talk.
In the Pacific Ocean, Pete Holder, an Australian smuggler, is aboard his sailboat, the Diamantina, with Lee, a Chinese pirate, Fifi, a runaway American girl, and Jules, an Englishwoman who left behind a trust fund to travel the world. They are linking up with the Pong Su, a North Korean freighter, but Lee alerts Holder to the fact that 'something is up' and the freighter has changed course suddenly. The smugglers tune in to the CNN's Asia Bureau in Hong Kong, which is playing news footage from a team in Edmonton, Canada; the 'event' has seemingly split the city in half and police are keeping people from getting close to it. The smugglers learn that the stock exchanges in London, Tokyo and Sydney have been shut down, and that the Russian Armed Forces are on high alert.
At CENTCOM Headquarters in Qatar, Bret Melton, a former US Army Ranger and a veteran reporter for the Army Times, is in a packed newsroom awaiting word from the Coalition commanders, but a US Air Force colonel emerges instead. Tommy Franks and Peter Wall, the Coalition commanders, are 'indisposed' and cannot do the brief. The colonel tells the reporters that the Coalition will not answer questions as to how the 'event' originated or why, but he says that CENTCOM has established contact with all of the US commands in the Pacific, European and some elements of the Northern regions (NORTHCOM encompasses North America and part of the Caribbean). Melton is curious as to why they aren't in contact with NORTHCOM 'proper', but before he can ask, a Jordanian reporter named Sayad al-Mirsaad, from al-Jazeera, brings up why satellite photos from French sources show that people have seemingly 'disappeared' from America. Through further questioning by other reporters, Melton learns that despite losing connection to CONUS, the US Military still maintains intact theater-level networks and remains ready to execute any orders from their national command authority; Melton hears another reporter say, "What national command authority? They're all gone." Melton believes the 'disappearance' to be a scam, but finally accepts it after seeing Canadian news footage and logging onto Blizzard and finding all the gamer avatars and chat rooms empty (their players had all disappeared hours ago). Al-Mirsaad, a good friend of Melton, comes to him and translates a news broadcast launched by Saddam Hussein; in an ironic twist on the Coalition's assault in Desert Storm, Hussein is calling on the Arab world to rise up against what is left of America and their puppets in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and force them out of the Middle East.
Caitlin Monroe discovers that she has a lesion in her brain, but that the hospital needs her to leave because they need the beds; the British Government takes over all UK news stations. One of the antiwar protestors with Caitlin, a French girl named Monique, becomes suspicious of Caitlin when she shows mastery of the French language when she had unwittingly told them earlier that she could not speak it. Before Monique can address this, assassins arrive at the hospital and try to kill Caitlin. Caitlin subdues the assassins after they kill the other protestors, but Monique is still with her and is asking questions. The two escape into the city.
General Musso meets with a Cuban major, who is the senior ranking officer in the Cuban Army. The rest of his staff have disappeared in the 'event', which the major describes in detail as a curtain of hot air that billows with the wind and vaporizes humans, leaving behind smoldering clothing. General Musso and his staff debate how to send someone to investigate its effects on the cities in Cuba; the idea of launching a Predator UAV into the affected area is floated and okay-ed by the Cuban major. They find all of Cuba's major cities abandoned and in flames, the streets clogged with cars that apparently lost all their drivers at the same time. The commanding officer of Pacific Command gets in contact with General Musso; Admiral James Ritchie is the ranking US military officer outside of CENTCOM and is trying to establish contact with any and all US military installations around the world.
Admiral Ritchie, General Franks, and other officers, including Lieutenant Colonel Susan Pileggi, the ranking officer at Joint Task Force Bravo in Honduras, and General Jones, the ranking officer at European Command, meet with General Musso over a video conference. It is established that while General Franks is the ranking officer in the US military now, Admiral Ritchie will take charge because of Franks' position in the war planning in Iraq. The male officers argue about line of succession (Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is the only surviving Presidential Cabinet member, since she was at a meeting in Geneva; she is not a US citizen though and cannot be President) and Lt Col Pileggi suggests the military find an elected official at the state level from Washington, Alaska or Hawaii, and utilize them as the executive authority, so that the military has someone to issue orders to them; otherwise, Admiral Ritchie points out, any military action they carry out has no legal basis. They establish that Seattle is the only major city in CONUS that is not affected, and that General Jackson Blackstone, the commanding general of the 2nd Infantry Division in Fort Lewis, Washington, has deployed troops into Seattle to prevent panic. Since General Musso is closest to the 'phenomenon', General Franks asks him to brief them on it. At this time, it is estimated that the death toll is at 400 million.
Musso and the Cuban delegation inspect the 'Wave' but the Cuban major is sucked in when the Wave moves with the wind. In Hawaii, Admiral Ritchie learns that China, like Russia, has put its military on alert but has not deployed its power projection assets. Taiwan and South Korea are in a state of martial law, while North Korea remains disturbingly quiet; Japan and Australia mobilize their militaries and pledge to send aid to the United States as needed because of treaty obligations.
In the Pacific, Pete Holder, Jules, Fifi and Lee are attacked by pirates; while they are able to fight them off with their formidable arsenal, Pete is killed in the shooting, devastating Jules.
Admiral Ritchie reports to Honolulu to speak with Linda Lingle, the Governor of Hawaii. The military is offering aid to the civil powers, and also trying to see if Governor Lingle will take over as temporary President of the United States. Ritchie meets Jed Culver, a Louisiana lawyer who had a law practice in Washington D.C. until the event, which stranded him in Hawaii with his wife. Admiral Ritchie and Culver meet with Lingle and her aids, and Ritchie broaches the subject of the line of succession; Lingle states that she does not want troops in her streets, and that she is unwilling to take charge except for in Hawaii. She asks Ritchie if the US is still going to attack Iraq anyway; Ritchie says they are not going ahead with plans, but they may fight back if Iraq attacks first. Lingle urges him to use what chain of command is left, while she worries about feeding the people of Hawaii.
Bret Melton is flown out to a staging area in Kuwait for the 3rd Infantry Division. There, he sees British SAS personnel planning for an assault into Iraq, and sees US soldiers preparing for the invasion of Iraq. Melton is embedded with Bravo Troop, 5/7 Cavalry, under the command of Captain Lohberger. Lieutenant Euler is a platoon commander whom Melton knows well. Lohberger and Euler take Melton to a tent and brief him on the situation at hand, after Melton tells the soldiers that the US is gone, save for Seattle, Alaska, Hawaii, and 'a few places in Canada'. Melton relays that primates are the only living things affected by the Wave, as a Japanese blogger discovered after hacking a webcam at the San Diego Zoo and seeing that like the humans, the monkeys were also gone. Captain Lohberger shows Melton the invasion orders, titled 'OPLAN Katie', which show the 1st Division (United Kingdom) taking Basra and the 3rd Infantry Division moving through southwestern Iraq. 5/7 Cav has been tasked with taking Jalibah Airfield in southern Iraq. Melton does not voice his concerns with OPLAN Katie, and is disillusioned with why military commanders are going ahead with the invasion.
Caitlin is attempting to reach an Echelon safe house with Monique. After traveling across the city, they find the safe house, but French DGSE agents are watching the place; Caitlin surmises that DGSE is trying to weed out Echelon operatives. She writes off the idea of going to one of the member nations' embassies (Echelon comprises operatives from agencies in the US, UK and Canada) and decides to wait it out and see what is going on at the apartment.
On March 21, 2003, a week since the Disappearance, everything within the affected zone has burned, causing a massive cloud of pollutants and smoke from the fires to pour across the skies over North America. It blows over Europe and kills countless birds and trees. Seattle is affected badly by the fallout as well, but rain washes much of it away. James Kipper and City Council are struggling to keep Seattle stocked, since the mayor and most of the city government were lost in the Disappearance. Kipper is regulating relief supplies that have come in from Japan, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, but a shipment has not arrived in days and the city is suffering for it. General Blackstone and his troops have effectively locked down the city, and The Resistance sprouts in the area after countless violations of people's First Amendment rights angers the population.
In An Nasiriyah, Iraq Bret Melton and the troopers of 5/7 Cav fight their way through urban terrain, meeting heavy resistance. After Apache helicopters break up an ambush, Melton and his squad push deeper into the city. Because of the Disappearance, the military cannot afford to sustain supplies for prisoners of war, so US personnel begin the practice of no quarter and even go as far as flying black flags on their vehicles. A US airstrike kills Uday Hussein with a JDAM, and Coalition air power succeeds in locking down Iraqi airspace, but the fighting on the ground has become so convoluted that the Polish and Australian detachments have pulled back to Kuwait, their missions now irrelevant. Saddam Hussein has built a huge following in the Middle East, stylizing himself as the 'defeater of the infidels' and urging pan-Arabic hysteria in order to force the Coalition out of the Middle East. In response to this, the US military has forgone all rules of engagement and openly fires on mosques and hospitals with MLRS and artillery. While the 3rd Infantry Division has taken light casualties, Iraqi casualties are in the tens of thousands by the first few days of the war. After a request for air support is denied to Lieutenant Euler and his platoon, they find out that Iran declared war on America an hour previously and their air force was now sweeping in over Iraq and bringing the fight to the Coalition. Swarms of pleasure craft and Jet-Skis head out to the Coalition ships off the coast of Iraq, full of suicide bombers. The soldiers are subsequently wiped out when a mortar strike arrives and kills Lieutenant Euler and most of the platoon.
Caitlin and Monique go to the safe house, where Caitlin becomes increasingly ill. In Mexico, Jules arrives with Fifi and Lee and finds a group of Gurkha mercenaries, whom Jules hires for protection. The leader of the Gurkhas, Sergeant Shah, suggests Jules make money by charging American refugees in return for a ride on her new boat to Australia. Meanwhile in Cuba, General Musso receives LtCol Pileggi to plan for contingency operations to preserve the Panama Canal and protect American interests there. Admiral Ritchie in Hawaii has already secured help from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Brazil in receiving and taking care of American refugees, but attempts at reaching France have proven futile, as the Chirac government is busy putting down revolutionary unrest in their country. Admiral Ritchie receives a brief on the situation in the Middle East; General Franks is urging them to pull military forces out of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but those countries are heavily against that decision. British forces in the Gulf are fighting Iranian armor in southern Iraq around Basra, while the US is being hammered by the Iranian air force. Admiral Ritchie orders General Franks to execute Operation Damocles.
Bret Melton comes to in a hospital at Camp New Jersey in Kuwait. A soldier that also survived the mortar strike tells Melton about what's going on in the world. The United States military is now fighting Iran and Iraq; Israel has not been attacked because Ariel Sharon went on al-Jazeera and told the world that they had 200 nuclear bombs and listed off cities in the Middle East that he would nuke if any attack occurred. As a result of the pan-Arabic hysteria fostered by Saddam Hussein, the PLO and Yasser Arafat's movement in Palestine have been squashed by a heavy Israeli Army offensive. Hamas has begun a continuous rocket barrage of Israel from inside Lebanon. The Coalition lost a British destroyer and Australian dive vessel to suicide boats, while Iraq launched Scud missiles at the The Port of Basra, killing countless US Marines and British personnel. Iranian and Iraqi MiG fighter jets are shot down in droves over the Gulf by US and British warplanes. Because of the brawl in the Gulf, hundreds of US bombers stationed in the Pacific are dispatched to carpet bomb Tehran and Baghdad. Meanwhile, China launches missiles at Taiwan. Melton hears on BBC that Europe has suffered a banking collapse as a result of the disappearance of the United States and its massive economy; violence in France has broken out as a result, launching the country into civil war.
In Seattle, James Kipper's food bank at a local Costco is attacked by looters, killing several innocent people before the police arrive. The army was supposed to have security there, and General Jackson Blackstone requests that Kipper meet him. He is collected by Major McCutcheon, an air force officer working for General Blackstone. In Mexico, Jules and Fifi arrange for a number of people to get on their boat, including Miguel Pieraro, a Mexican cowboy, and his family. In France, Monique is killed by French DGSE assassins working with al-Banna. In Kuwait, Melton is evacuated from Camp New Jersey and sent to Qatar, where he meets a number of military personnel waiting to get out of the Middle East, including a team of Polish GROM commandos led by Sergeant Fryderyk Milosz. Melton ends up gathering testimonials from military personnel around the world about their experiences, especially the Americans having lost everything back home. Milosz talks about going home to Poland, which is suffering from starvation after polluted rain from North America destroys their crops.
James Kipper tries to convince General Blackstone and Major McCutcheon to release the city council, whom they arrested because they were not doing things the way the military wanted. Kipper is not able to secure their freedom, but does make plans to pressure Blackstone further. The new Israeli Ambassador to the United States arrives to speak with Admiral Ritchie, who is the de facto representative of the US federal government. The ambassador has revealed that sources inside the Iraqi and Iranian militaries indicate that Iran transported chemical and biological weaponry to Iraq to fit to their Scud missiles. The Israeli military is preparing for a number of strikes in the Middle East on targets including Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran. Appalled at Israel's plan and pleas for US assistance in the operation, Ritchie orders the Israeli delegate out of his office. Inside the Negev Desert of Israel, F-15I jets prepare to take off to strike the Aswan High Dam in Egypt, while Jericho II nuclear missiles are already inbound to Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and other sites in the Middle East.
Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq and Syria are all hit with nuclear weapons, completely destroying all those nations' governments and killing at least 85 million people outright. Over 30 million more are killed over the next few months from radiation poisoning. Admiral Ritchie beseeches the civilian governors from the three surviving states to nominate someone to be the new president, because without presidential authority the United States cannot deploy its nuclear weapons. With the Middle East utterly destroyed, the war in Iraq stops; Iraqi forces surrender en masse, while Iranian forces retreat. Without any governments at the national level, many local leaders in Iran and Iraq request Coalition aid. Israel rapidly becomes a pariah on the international stage and loses what little US support it had left.
Kipper rallies what's left of the City Council at Fort Lewis and meets with General Blackstone and his officers. The shooting at the food bank had been blamed on the Resistance, and Blackstone's heavy-handed tactics are alienating the people of Seattle. Kipper and Blackstone reach an agreement to release the imprisoned council members if martial law is allowed to remain in place. One of the council members brings up the subject of nuclear power plants behind the Wave, which are beginning to melt down.
Jules, Fifi and Lee are in Acapulco, Mexico trying to figure out who they're going to let on their boat, a yacht named Aussie Rules, for the trip to Australia. They meet Rhino Ross, a retired US Coast Guard chief petty officer, and let him on the boat because of his experience at sea. Rhino helps them load stores onto the boat; since he has a penchant for smoking cigars, he is interested in there being a humidor on the ship. Jules and her crew escape Acapulco as chaos reigns on shore, because thousands of foreigners are stranded without anywhere to go.
Al-Mirsaad finds Melton in Kuwait and gets him a flight to London; they talk about what they will do now, and Melton tries to convince his friend to follow him to London, but al-Mirsaad refuses on the grounds that he has to stay in the Middle East to report on what is happening after Israel nukes it.
Caitlin is captured, tortured and raped in France by al-Banna and his French DGSE lackeys. Civil war has broken out between rogue French military and intelligence groups under Chirac, and more moderate, friendly forces under Nicolas Sarkozy. An Intifada in France results in the rise to power of Sarkozy and Caitlin is rescued by French military troops. The United Kingdom begins the mass deportation of its Muslim population, and seals its borders as it becomes a police state, admitting only Americans into the country. Bret Melton reaches London and then goes to Paris to report for the BBC on the Intifada. Jed Culver reports to Seattle and establishes an underground connection with Bill Gates, who now is one of the most powerful men in America. Under Gates, Microsoft has designed and produced the first smart phone, and Gates urges Jed Culver to help spread the phone technology amongst the Resistance to undermine General Blackstone.
China erupts into civil war after the economy there collapses; since China had been the largest net importer of food before the Disappearance, the country is now starving and has hundreds of millions unemployed and without incomes. The Chinese government and military, formerly engaged with Taiwan, are now fully enveloped in sectarian violence. In Cuba, General Musso is trying to figure out what to do with the detainees when they are attacked by Venezuela. During the attacks, Lt Col Pileggi and numerous US military personnel are killed; General Musso, facing superior numbers, flies a white flag, signalling the Venezuelan military that he is surrendering.
James Kipper is summoned to a meeting between the Seattle City Council and the military brass from Fort Lewis; here he meets Jed Culver, who has arrived in Seattle to work with the Seattle officials to help form a new federal government. While in Seattle, Culver meets Major Ty McCutcheon, who turns out to be a political spy for Blackstone. Culver, respecting McCutcheon's political savy, still does not like him and knows Kipper is the favored leader in Seattle; he starts to groom him toward that position while warning him away from McCutcheon and Blackstone.
General Franks contacts Musso before his surrender and tells him that they will get revenge on the Venezuelans; Hugo Chávez has already declared victory against the Americans after overrunning the navy base at Guantanamo. A damaged carrier battle group centered on the USS Nimitz is on its way after withdrawing from the war in Iraq, but is still ten days out. Musso opts to surrender. In the South Pacific, Jules and her crew are tailed by pirates and a storm. They desperately try to reach Australian waters before it is too late.
The meeting in Seattle does not go well, but Jed Culver witnesses James Kipper break up the in-fighting and instantly likes him. Upon returning home, James and Barbara are interrupted by Barney Tench, who is wanted by Blackstone's men for associating with the Resistance. While meeting with Tench in his den, James and Barbara hear the police arrive outside; they have come with a squad of soldiers from Fort Lewis to search the house for Tench. James is about to refuse them, but Barbara insists that the cops come in, but the soldiers stay outside because their boots are dirty. The cops search the home and find nothing. Kipper learns afterward that Tench hid in Suzie's toy box, and that he and Barbara have been a part of the Resistance since the beginning. Stunned, he refuses to believe it, but Barbara finally pushes him forward and tells him they have to do something before Blackstone takes over power.
Bret Melton arrives in Paris with a BBC team, only to get ambushed by Intifada fighters. His crew is killed, but Melton manages to fight off his attackers and escape into a damaged building. Almost simultaneously, Caitlin Monroe is nearby helping French security forces take down terrorists in the city, including some well-known bomb makers from Jemaah Islamiyah. Caitlin formulates a plan to breach the building in which al-Banna and his cronies are hiding.
The pirates attack the Aussie Rules during the height of the storm. While Jules and her Gurkha mercenaries are able to fight off the pirate assault, numerous people are killed, including Fifi. Admiral Ritchie has turned over command to General Franks after the United States finishes pulling all of its military forces out of the Middle East, including Afghanistan. In order to relieve General Musso, Admiral Ritchie and General Franks contact all the nuclear submarines the US has floating around the world; only one captain responds and launches his nuclear missiles at Venezuela, detonating them off the coast of their capital and scaring the Chavez government into pulling its forces from Cuba.
Through working with Gates and the Resistance in Seattle, Jed Culver is able to rankle support for James Kipper, who is appointed the acting President of the United States. Upon receiving this post, Kipper forces Blackstone into retirement and lifts martial law in the Washington State area. After the chaos, Caitlin Monroe wakes in England to find Bret Melton by her side; Melton had saved Monroe's life during the raid on al-Banna's compound, but al-Banna was not present. Both of them were wounded in the process. Jules and her crew are rescued by ships of the Royal New Zealand Navy. James Kipper has a high-energy physics lab investigate the Wave, but they are unable to ascertain the nature of it, or how it originated and why.
Exactly a year to the day, on March 14, 2004, the Wave disappears.
Jim Hopper of the San Diego Union-Tribune said Without Warning is an example of "'mainstream' genres (thrillers particularly) [that] incorporate some SFnal elements pretty often as greater or lesser plot element."
- Graeme Blundell (2008-10-18). "On lowbrow street". The Australian. Retrieved 10 November 2008.
- "MCC-Longview 2008 Literary Festival". Metropolitan Community College. 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
- "Angels of Vengeance by John Birmingham - Book - eBook - Random House". Retrieved 2013-05-15.
- David M (April 22, 2009). "The Future of Newspapers and Book Coverage: A Book Reviewer Roundtable". Suvudu. Retrieved 2009-04-27.