Directive 51 – John Barnes

Set in mid 2020’s USA, Directive 51 opens with protagonist Heather O’Grainne investigating a social phenomenon known as ‘Daybreak’. Made up with people from all walks of life and beliefs, united by their desire to take down what they call the ‘Big System’, Daybreak is about to become a terrible reality. With civilisation rapidly collapsing as biotes and nanoswarm devour anything plastic or electronic, the US government struggles to minimise the damage and maintain control.

This isn’t just Heather’s story though; Directive 51 is told from a large number of perspectives. The reader gets a feel for what’s going on around the USA, from both sides of the conflict, but it means the story feels fragmented and, particularly in the first third of the novel, very slow to get going. It also made it kind of difficult to engage and empathise with the characters as they are pretty one-dimensional for a while. I did become invested in a few of them by the end of the novel.

The writing is dense and has a serious amount of unnecessary exposition going on (not helped by the small print in my paperback copy) so it took me a while to get through this novel. Realistically it could have been a much shorter novel (and a better one for it). It’s also very heavy on the US Constitution – most of the conflict in Directive 51 isn’t to do with Daybreak and the end of the world as we know it but with issues surrounding the continuance of government. If that kind of novel bores you to tears, I suggest you give this one a miss.

I did enjoy the sci-fi side of Directive 51, particularly how the world begins to adjust to a post-Daybreak life and technology level though, of course, some manage better than others. Being a big fan of disaster movies, I love a good apocalypse scenario and the sudden and catastrophic failure of things like plastic and electronics is a great one. I really liked the premise of Directive 51 but the overall execution wasn’t the best, sadly.

Despite my expectations, the ending left me wanting to know what happens in the rest of the series. I get the feeling that my favourite characters are never going to catch a break but that’s the point in an end of the world thriller I guess. Whether or not I actually pick up Daybreak Zero remains to be seen.

Rating: 2.5 stars.

Similar Reads: Black Monday by R. Scott Reiss (also listed as Bob Reiss).

Directive 51 was published in 2010 by Penguin Group. ISBN : 978-0-441-02041-6.