This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but with the whisper
of decaying petroleum products. That's the apocalypse envisioned by
Kevin J. Anderson, author of numerous "Star Wars" novels, and Doug Beason.
In their third novel pairing, Ill Wind, the beginning of the
end is an oil tanker spill in San Francisco Bay. Ill Wind
deals with an unexpected end to the world as we know it and the
attempts by the U.S. government to hold the nation together, for good or
ill. A very readable and believable story, this book takes its place
among other speculative visions of the way our world will end, and how
the pieces will be picked up.
Alex Kramer is a bioremediation researcher for oil giant Oilstar,
cultivating natural microbes to clean up millenial civilization's messes.
His Prometheus microbe is experimental, awaiting approval by the federal
government for use in oil spill cleanup operations. Racked by the pain
of leukemia and grieving the deaths of his wife and two children, Alex
Kramer feels he has nothing to lose when the Oilstar tanker Zoroaster spills its
entire cargo off the shores of San Francisco. He prepares a modified
Prometheus for Oilstar to use in its defensive public relations plan.
Todd Severyn, a Wyoming cowboy who has worked oil all his life, is
put in charge of the Zoroaster cleanup. When the tanker sinks
before all its cargo can be offloaded, he takes Alex Kramer's Prometheus
microbe up in a helicopter to spray the spill before the bioremediation
process can be stopped by court injuction. What Todd and Stanford microbiologist
and chemist Iris Shikozu don't know is that the microbe they release is
a mean cousin to the samples Iris okayed for the operation. This Prometheus
doesn't stop at gobbling up crude oil in a restricted area. It can feed
on gasoline and most of the plastics made from petroleum -- the very
fabric of modern civilization. Most frightening of all, it can spread
through the air.
As the "petro plague" spreads across the globe, the Speaker of the
House becomes president after the assassination of the President in the
Mideast and the Vice President's death in an elevator malfunction. He
orders martial law, and the armed forces are suddenly in charge of domestic
law and order. Communications break down as quickly as petroleum-based
polymers do, and pockets of totalitarianism spring up. Air Force Brigadier
General Ed Bayclock, an efficient and deeply patriotic commander, takes
charge of the Albuquerque area, brutally enforcing his strict brand of
martial law -- including public hangings of curfew breakers and petty
thieves. Spencer Lockwood's solar power research station is nearby,
where small satellite solar collectors beam power down via microwave
to an antenna farm that harvests and channels the power. His work
becomes known to General Bayclock, and Spencer's power station is targeted
for confiscation under martial law.
A downed naval pilot, a social activist, the Zoroaster's
captain and the criminal responsible for the spill all play a part in
how society begins reconstructing itself. As the central characters'
lives intersect and diverge, humanity's rebirth becomes a hopeful possibility.
Anderson and Beason have constructed a cautionary tale that avoids being
preachy even while it coaxes us to be aware, to think. Ill Wind