I’m a sucker for Apocalyptic Fiction, if you couldn’t already tell, so when Richard Stephenson offered me the opportunity to read an advanced copy of COLLAPSE, I couldn’t resist.
Richard Stephenson’s debut novel held me in its grip from start to finish. Based in the not so distant future, the background for Collapse is a frightening projection ripped from current headlines. In the context of today’s Western financial crisis and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Stephenson’s dystopian setting does not come across as a far-fetched fictional ploy, but rather one of several worst case scenarios developed by Beltway think-tanks.
The year is 2027. The war with the new Empire of Iran is not going well. America’s heartland resembles a scene from Mad Max, with the newly formed Unified National Guard barely keeping control on the streets. The unemployment rate is no longer a relevant measure of the economy, because the employed are in the minority. America is still a super power, but that distinction is fading rapidly.
This is the backdrop for a fast paced, character driven story that explores the best and worst of humanity. The reader will be introduced to a host of characters, all with a role to play in the outcome of this sweeping apocalyptic tale. Character development is one of Stephenson’s strongest skills, bringing each character’s motivations and background to light at the right time, in the right place. You won’t find cardboard cut-outs in this story, but watch out…the author often spends time developing characters that meet an untimely fate.
Most of all, Stephenson tells a riveting tale that starts with a bang and doesn’t lose momentum. There is just the right amount of “telling,” where you learn about the background leading up to the war with the Empire of Iran or American’s financial collapse. Most of the story is told from the characters’ perspective, where you will find them battling through incredible circumstances…eventually winding up on the same journey. Stephenson effectively employs the popular, yet often poorly executed strategy of alternating between characters in different settings. The tension escalates in each of his scenes, culminating in several mini-finales. I found myself reading with rapt attention, but constantly looking forward to getting back to the other main characters’ stories.
I would give Stephenson’s debut 4.5 stars. My only complaint was that some of the technology available to one of the main characters seemed unrealistic for 2027. The character is Howard Beck, the wealthiest man in the world, and likely the most intelligent. Stephenson’s incredible imagination shines brightly here, but I found myself slightly distracted by the disparity between what I found inside his compound and outside. In retrospect, I understand what the author was trying to accomplish. In the face of abject dystopia, Beck’s wealth and genius has allowed him to keep pace with the world that “could” have developed. Likely far exceeding it. Perhaps it would be like walking into Bill Gate’s house today, which would be an experience nearly unrecognizable to most of us.
If you like post-apocalyptic scenarios, this story will fully satisfy your hunger for gritty, unapologetic “end of the world” literature.