Thursday, 15 September 2011

Last Light - Alex Scarrow

Last Light

-Alex Scarrow

Last Light is a book that should have worked and indeed works better than might be expected.  I do have problems with part of the storyline, but I will get to that further on in the review.

It is roughly 2005 (the book got dated very quickly, as it refers to UK forces in Iraq) and terrorists have pulled off a series of strikes that cripple global oil production and distribution.  Through the eyes of a British family, the UK PM and an assassin working for the bad guys, we see the disastrous effects this has on the world.  The Middle East becomes consumed by riots that force the remaining Western forces to hunker down and prepare for withdrawal, while the rapid spread of panic in Britain leads to massive riots and a general collapse of society, something that would have been less believable prior to the 2011 London Riots.

The father of the British family was a prepper (as in survivalist).  He actually did the research that predicted the oil shortage prior to the book’s opening.  His soon to be ex-wife doesn’t believe him, nor does his teenage daughter and son.  As the story unfolds, the father finds himself trapped in Iraq with the British Army, while the mother is forced to make her way home slowly through dangerous streets and the daughter and son are forced to hunker down at home and pray for the end of the crisis.  The PM, meanwhile, loses all control of his country, despite a declaration of martial law and suchlike.  And the assassin is after the daughter…

There is a major weakness in the book which pretty much shattered my suspension of disbelief.  The bad guys behind the plot are a consortium of powerful families that had existed prior to the American Revolution, an idea right out of 100 Bullets.  It would have been easy to believe Islamic terrorists launching the strike, but not a conspiracy of people whose power depends on a stable world.  If this wasn’t bad enough, the assassin is sent after the daughter because she glimpsed one of the bad guys – with the effect that the conspiracy’s own incompetence helped uncover its existence.  What – realistically – is a half-memory from years ago going to do to them?

Past that, the book is sometimes repetitive, but chilling.  The fighting in Iraq is bad, but its worse in Britain.  Both the mother and daughter narrowly avoid being raped more than once – others are not so lucky – and the police and the military are nowhere in evidence.  And there are deaths, including some surprising characters.  The book glides over the multitude of characters – and social attitudes – that weave their way through the crisis.  Some become angels and risk their lives helping others; others fall to darkness and loot, rape and burn at will.  Like most post-apocalyptic novels, there’s no happy ending.  Its bittersweet at best.

I think that the author exaggerates the crisis to some degree.  Yes, a sudden and major cut-off of oil and food would be devastating.  However, the British government seems to have been attacked with crazy-stupid gas.  Instead of making immediate preparations for martial law, the PM appeals to the Dunkirk sprit that saved Britain before.  The government should have responded decisively, instead of an attitude that ranges from denial to wishy-washy reluctance to bite the bullet and crackdown harshly. 

First, don’t announce anything until nightfall – say, around 2300.  Second, call up all police and military reservists.  Hell, call up anyone with military experience.  There’s supposed to be a plan to do just that.  Get their families packed off to secure military bases so the soldiers don’t have to worry about them.  Send troops to the media centres and make sure that they toe the line – no public broadcast until 2300.  Get armed troops out to food storage warehouses, hospitals and other locations that need to be secured.  Set up detention camps for prisoners.  There’s going to be a lot of them.

At 2300, announce the curfew and heavy fuel rationing.  No public sales of petrol to anyone.  Armed police on the streets, particularly in the inner cities, backed up by AFVs if possible.  Take over the media completely; take down the internet and mobile phone networks.  There will be trouble in the rowdier areas; stamp on it hard.  Thugs and looters to be arrested if possible; shot down if not.  Prisoners go to the detention camps.  Areas of heavy rioting to receive a higher police/military presence.  Any peaceful community leaders told to appeal for calm, or else.  Any known agitators/radical imams/whatever to be rounded up before they can do anything. 

Address the nation the following morning.  The priority is to make it clear that the government is in control and that food will be delivered.  Don’t lie – be honest and admit that the country is in for hard times.  And make it clear that rioting will be met with a heavy response.  Food will be rationed; any attempt at hoarding will be heavily punished.

Over the next few weeks, start reopening farms and throw out the EU regulations that killed so many small farms.  The intention is to feed the entire country internally if possible, before running out of food.  Gently relax the security if possible...

None of this will make the government popular, but it is doable and much of the country would survive.

Overall, this book is worth at least one read.  Maybe not a keeper though.