Book Review - Collapse - America Will Fail by Richard Stephenson
I love a novel that grabs you from the first page and keeps you going late into the night. Just one more chapter before I go to sleep, well maybe another one. I write this on the first day of summer having just finished this book and I'm dying to read the sequel which is supposed to be published in a few weeks.
Collapse is a novel about a dystopian future in America in the year 2027. The country has just suffered two category 5 hurricanes, one of which slammed into Florida 5 times, each time heading back to sea and gaining strength. This happens in the middle of a major depression. The country is also at war the Empire of Iran, which pulls off some deviltry that I won't divulge lest I ruin your fun. Meanwhile political intrigues plague the beleaguered White House.
The country is collapsing, with civil insurrection the order of the day in major cities across the nation. The riots are aided by terrorists. The infrastructure, what's left of it, is coming apart at the seams. The American military, which we have always learned to count on in crisis, is now a menacing institution.
Does all this sound depressing? It's not, and the reason is that Stephenson has put together a group of characters who aren't about to take it anymore. If you wish to pigeon hole this book for a writing group discussion, I would call it a plot driven novel, rather than one moved by characters. But that would be oversimplifying the book. The author's characters are well developed, interesting and either likeable or hateful. The bad guys aren't comic book nasties, but are well developed characters.
The book starts by introducing us to Howard Beck, the wealthiest man in America who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high level autism that severely impairs his social skills. This part of the plot was inspired by the author's son who suffers from the syndrome. Beck's main buddy is Hal, a ground breaking Artificial Intelligence computer that he invented and with whom (which?) Beck constantly communicates. Hal is programmed with an English accent, and Beck refers to him as Old Man, as if Hal were a drinking buddy at a country club. Hal is one of the main characters in the book, even though he isn't human.
As the crisis deepens we're introduced to a cast of characters and see how they deal with it. There is Richard Dupree, a former Navy SEAL, who recently escaped from prison in which he was serving a term for murder. We find that he murdered a really bad guy so we don't dislike him, but grow to admire him. There is Maxwell Harris, the small town chief of police who goes from a just-let-me-get-to-retirement passivity to take charge heroics, aided by his beautiful deputy.
Like a good chef, Stephenson keeps a bunch of sub-plots cooking and brings them to the dinner table at just the right time. The sub plots are all well done, and they're all populated by interesting minor characters. You don't see where it's all heading, but when you get there you're glad you took the ride. The author does a great job of setting up the sequel to make sure his readers don't stray. This is excellent marketing as well as good writing.
In the beginning of the book, Stephenson introduces himself as an Independent Author, in other words a self-published author. Collapse is his first novel, and it's a great start. Stephenson does his job as a novel writer; he tells a story and he tells it well.
The book could use another round of proof reading. There were a few unclosed quotation marks, and even a sentence that is missing a word (but it's easy to figure out what the word should be). One of the main characters is named Elizabeth Reid. Or is it Elizabeth Reed? She is referred to both ways. In another part of the book one of the heroes is looking for his kids, who he hasn't seen in years. He tells us that one is 13, the other 9. A few pages later he mentions that they are both teenagers now. But these are minor quibbles and don't detract from the five star rating I give the book.
If you like a fast paced thriller, this book is for you. It's available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book. With any luck the sequel, entitled Resistance, will be ready by the time you finish Collapse.
Richard Stephenson, judging by this first book, is a writer with a sound future.
Copyright © 2013 by Russell F. Moran