Many of the positive reviews for John Birmingham’s Without Warning reference Tom Clancy. I enjoyed Clancy’s work before he went into semi-retirement. Debt of Honor had the famous and sadly prescient scene at the end when an airliner crashes into the Capitol building, obliterating the government.
Without Warning takes things a few steps further. The premise is that an energy wave, never adequately explained as the inciting incident, that wipes out most of the North American continent. Within the wave, there are no survivors. The book is set at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, so most of the U.S. military is overseas. What happens when all that remains of the U.S. is Hawaii, Alaska, and a small sliver of Washington state, including Seattle? The world slips into chaos. Fires set in the unpopulated part of the continent cause toxic rain throughout the Northern Hemisphere. France falls into civil war. Israel is alone in the Middle East.
The strength of the book is the fast plot and the well drawn characters. The book focuses on protagonists, including a group of smugglers, a city engineer in Seattle, the U.S. general in charge of Guantanamo Bay, and a spy in deep cover. Birmingham has an encyclopedic knowledge of military hardware.
I read the book in less than a week. It helped to contrast the goings-on in this world with the issues in ours.
I highly recommend Without Warning if you want a fast read of a world gone mad. Of course there’s going to be a sequel.