Review: Directive 51

Directive 51
Directive 51 by John Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a densely packed techno thriller. It is the first book in a trilogy, so not all questions are answered. It reminds me in many ways of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 40 Days of Rain. It is densely populated with a large cast of characters, from the people who helped bring about this end of civilization, called the Daybreakers, to the politicians and government types that make up the DC world. Most of the book is focused on the government – how it reacts, what department’s do, succession questions, policies, and procedures. I found it one of the most fascinating books I have read since the Jump 225 trilogy a number of years ago.

I felt, unlike some, that his cast of characters, although none perfect, showed humanity, and it was his attention to minute detail that brought the book alive for me – like the TV reporter following the Republican challenger around the campaign tour in the last week of the election just as Daybreak hits. He is hired by an elderly lady, who has a big rambling old house, and a friend with a printing press, for food and lodging, and to become the National Affairs editor of the new paper newspaper that she is starting up (the novel takes place an unidentified time in the near future -about 15-20 years), and he thinks about the job, wonders if he can find a fedora and maybe one with a hatband to stick a press card in it. A humorous aside, one of many, that shows the characters in a few brush strokes (although we knew him earlier as a brilliant TV journalist/cameraman), – the mention of the hat and press card shows that he understands the long history of journalism and the proud nature of it, and that the news must go on. I found many such small details to bring the book alive. Even throw-away characters had character. And some showed up again when you didn’t expect them to.

It is the story of a meme, one that seems to have no head – no person directing it’s activities, although maybe a large group, but it is self-replicating, found through systemic semiotic analysis that looks at patterns that emerge from nowhere, and unlike fads, seems to have a purpose, to grow, and subsume other splinter groups/ideas into it’s message. It is very hard to understand at times – the whole meme structure of it is explained in non-layman’s terms and again for us newbies, but it is exciting. I read until 3am, and then I still didn’t want to quit. It is somewhat dry at times, like KSR’s trilogy, but it also scary, plausible to me, and has great consequences for our lives, our political systems, and humanity itself. Having watched internet memes come along and grow in ever increasing numbers, I see how this book took that idea, fresh two years ago, and created this book from it. Two years ago, you only really heard of memes in an academic setting. Today they are part of the cyber vocabulary. Worth the time to read, IMO. Professional reviewers made comparisons to Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, and I find it apt – the picture not so much of the mechanics of what happens, but the people themselves. I found it exceptional and one of the best I have read in several years. I have done an inter-library loan for book two, Daybreak Zero, since our libraries around here don’t have it.

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