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"In the last episode of the apocalypse..."

Posted December 19 by John Birmingham

One of the knotty little challenges in writing any series of books is the reader who arrives halfway through. It happens. All the time.

Some of them don't even realise they've stepped into a story that's already rolling. They just feel a bit confused and frustrated and don't know why.

All writers have ways of dealing with this. In Harry Turtledove's World War series, the leader of invading space lizards had a debriefing at the start of each book, bascially recapping the story. In After America I used the ceremony to appoint the next US Poet Laureate to go back over the events of Without Warning. (Even paid an actual poet to write me a poem).

In FAIL STATE, the sequel to ZERO DAY CODE, I was lucky in having one trick I could turn to two purposes. The little vignettes scattered throughout the manuscript to give the reader/listener a broader overview of the cyberwar and civilisation collapse also proved super useful for recapping. One of my faves is below, a cut away in the second chapter to the International Space Station, a location we never visit again, for reasons that quickly become obvious.

The end of the world had arrived. It just wasn’t evenly distributed. Darkness fell hardest where the light of civilisation had burned with the brightest splendour. The crew of the International Space Station were ideally placed to observe the dying cities of the North American continent, but immediately after the Chinese cyber attack on the US, there was surprisingly little to note. Unlike the morning of the 9/11 atrocities, no vast grey plumes soared into the atmosphere like dark volcanic ejecta.
Indeed, as the edge of darkness crept across the continent at the end of that first day, the Canadian crew member, Dan Frith, noted that the dense filigree of electric brilliance that traced the veins and arteries of urban life far below, seemed noticeably brighter – a consequence of tens of millions of automobiles trapped in gargantuan traffic jams. Second order effects of the cyber strike, such as panic buying, creeping hunger, and eventual mass starvation were not readily obvious from four hundred kilometres above the Earth’s surface, unlike the accelerating collapse of the power grid over the following week and a half.
It would be six months before the continental United States was completely dark, save for a few hundred pin points of light scattered far from the ruins of the great cities. But by then the four men and two women who had observed the trifling struggles of mankind as the Gods once had looked down from Olympus, had themselves perished. No NASA missions came to their rescue. The European Space Agency, like Europe itself, was taken into the maw a new Dark Age. Roscosmos, ESA’s Russian equivalent was quickly militarised with the outbreak of hostilities on the Eurasian landmass, and just as quickly destroyed in the short, brutal war that followed.
Roscosmos was always an unlikely hope for salvation, Frith noted in one of the last mission logs. A quirk of the crew rotation schedule meant that he had replaced the previous Russian crewmember, Cosmonaut Colonel Danya Spasojevic, when the final Soyuz docked with the space station, two weeks before the catastrophe that came to be known, however briefly, as Zero Day.
Nobody read Frith’s mission log.
The ISS burned up on re-entry fifteen months and two days after General Chu Jianguo of the 2nd Bureau, Third Department of the People's Liberation Army General Staff pressed a single bright red key, labeled ENTER, to launch Operation Golden Path.

You can grab the books here, if you have a credit going spare at Audible.

5 Responses to ‘"In the last episode of the apocalypse..."’

she_jedi asserts...

Posted December 19
Just got your email pimping out Fail State, even though your pimping is too late because I pre-ordered it, so there. But this line "...all your favourite characters are back, unless I killed them. Sorry." made me laugh very loudly in a quiet office and everyone looked at me strangely. I regret nothing #WorthIt

Ceramic reckons...

Posted December 22
Yeah, I chuckled at that line too. Now that I know it's a writer's thing. Helped by writer's discussions after George RR Martin's line about killing off a character whenever someone asked about them.

Like the idea of the space station's crew setting the scene.

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jl is gonna tell you...

Posted December 20
FAIL STATE was excellent; I burned through it in a few days of chores and car rides. Frightening book, really. Of course I left a review on the Beast.

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted December 20
I’ve been really surprised at how well it came together. It was Hell to write.

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pitpat puts forth...

Posted December 20
Thanks John,
I have it loaded up and am waiting until the Christmas drive fest between the Smoky Coast and the still bright lights of Brisbane. Can't wait and might just crack the first bit of Christmas cheer early. I am treating it as my little present to myself as no one else in my tribe appreciates the whole dystopian future thing. Yep, I am surrounded by barbarians more interested in Agatha Christie and Anime than modern literature that explodes in your ears.
Have a great break and thanks for all the words this year, hope they paid off handsomely.

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