“Directive 51” by John Barnes (Ace, 2010)

Directive 51
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Stories about the end of the world are real popular right now, especially if they involve a devastating disease, zombies, vampires, or perhaps somehow all of the above.  John Barnes’ Directive 51 is about the end of the world – or at least the end of the United States – but doesn’t involve any of these elements; people cause the end of the world.  The key to Directive 51 is that nothing is predictable and you have no clue what’s going to happen next.

In this world everything ends subtly and quietly at first.  Heather O’Grainne is the Assistant Secretary  for the Office of Future Threat Assessment, and with a truly crack team, has spent her time studying a strange group known as “Daybreak,” only she is unable to trace it to any specific people.  The deeper she gets, the more it seems like Daybreak may not in fact be tied to any specific group, but is instead a developing movement with members numbering in the thousands or possibly tens of thousands throughout the world.  Then a number of strange incidents begin to take place: the kidnapping of the vice president who was on a secret mission no one knew about; the failure of various types of machinery throughout the country; the “melting” of any products made from gasoline in select locations that is quickly spreading.  The problem is the Office of Future Threat Assessment seems to be at least a couple steps behind these Daybreakers, and before they know it, it seems there’s no way to stop what’s happening.

The events of the book are seen through characters in the government, who invoke Directive 51 (which does actually exist) to maintain the governing and ruling of the country in the event of a truly catastrophic event.  Interesting and diverse characters are developed at first, but as the book progresses a number of them get pushed by the wayside, as the story grows and at times becomes overbearing.    Nevertheless, by the end readers will be wondering what is to happen to this very changed place that was once the United States.

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Originally written on June 7, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.