“It’s the end of the world as we know it…”
In Directive 51 John Barnes sets about destroying civilization as we know it and then examining what it would take to put the world back together again from those various pieces. In 51, the end of civilization is brought about by a fringe group that one day decides to release a nano-virus plague that feasts on much of our modern technology, rendering it useless. It can also eat the rubber in tires, thus removing the automobile from the equation as well. Even though the group, known as Daybreak, is loosely connected via Internet chat boards, it’s still remarkably effective in its plan of destruction.
Barnes also throws in a political storyline, involving terrorists hijacking the vice president’s plane and wanting to crash it into Game Seven of the World Series between the Angels and the Pirates. The crash will also release the nano-virus in large quantities as well, so they have that going for them. The sitting president, in the midst of apparently cruising to re-election, is forced to shoot down the plane and then can’t stop grieving long enough to fulfill his role as President. Meanwhile, his opponent is making political hay by looking Presidential. Eventually, the leader of the free world steps down and invokes Directive 51, which creates a line of succession should the president be incapacitated.
Fairly interesting for the first third of the book (detailing the events of the first day of Daybreak’s attack), Directive 51 becomes rapidly less interesting the longer it goes along. There is some thinly veiled political commentary here that you will either eat up with a spoon or will find you extremely annoyed. I have to admit I found myself somewhere in the middle, sometimes embracing what Barnes had to say through his characters, while other times rolling my eyes.