Aftermath by Charles Sheffield. Review by Andrea Johnson
Everyone has heard the line: "Repent! The end of the world is near! God is angry!" But what happens when the world ends because of natural causes?
Aftermath takes place about twenty years in the future, in an America with few advances in technology over what we have today—most notably "judicial sleep," a type of prison (picture the prison from the Minority Report movie, without the pipe organ). A healthy star in the Centauri system has gone supernova, sending a massive electromagentic pulse toward earth. The story follows characters in a few separate plot lines: the crew of a manned mission to Mars on their way home, a group of cancer survivors looking to rescue the inventor of their experimental treatment from judicial sleep, and the President of the US and a few of his aids. Thanks to the EMP, all electronic devices become useless. No refrigeration, no computers, no cars. Think Hurricane Katrina gone global.
In other words, a huge disaster, with many deaths. I read this book before Hurriane Katrina hit, and I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had read the book just after that storm. This book was far more enjoyable than it could have been because it did not dwell on the negative impact of the disaster. All of our characters stay optimistic. All of our characters are constantly thinking ahead, planning for the future, not dwelling on the fact that nothing works anymore. Maybe it's because many of our characters are used to adverse situations? The president has politics to deal with, our cancer patients are thankful to be alive, and our Mars astronauts have been living in a shoebox shuttle for the last 6 months—so our characters are used to challenges. We do not hear about people dying, flooding, mass starvation. It's implied, but Sheffield does not dwell on this, and I am thankful for it. The book is action packed, from the cancer survivors breaking their freakish doctor out of judicial sleep, to the Mars mission survivors crash-landing near a compound of religious fanatics, whose leader has foreseen the disaster.
This book raises some interesting ethical questions, such as what is a doctor's genius brain worth if he is a predatory criminal? When you only have one chance to save your own life, or the life of your friends, what do you do? Surrounded by tragedy, Sheffield keeps his eyes on the prize, namely the cancer survivors and their bizarre doctor, the Mars mission survivors trying to survive a cult of religious fanatics, and the President and his surrounding spider web of politics.
Once I got halfway through this book, I could not put it down. This is the first Sheffield book I have read, and I promise not to make it my last, however I was mighty frustrated to find the book ends on a cliffhanger. Guess I'll have to find the sequel!
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.