by Stanley Gallon

Just where does techno thriller stop and sci-fi start these days? While there’s no cause for a crisis of genre just yet, a general blurring of definitions is self evident as our lives become increasingly technological. Take Darkest Days as a case in point. Set 14 years in the future, it proposes a terrorist nuclear attack on Yellowstone National Park that causes a massive volcanic eruption and subsequent global destabilisation. But where Tom Clancy, and the troops of his Net Force, might approach the run up to this attack as their narrative backdrop, Stanley Gallon takes it as the launching point for his post apocalyptic novel.

      Two plotlines quickly establish themselves amid the staccato chapter structure. One focuses on the administration of unelected president Nathan Greeley, while the second concentrates on ‘grunt on the ground’ Adam Burch. While both initially seem to be linked only by the chain of command, it soon becomes apparent that the relationship between them is slightly more involved and insidious. Appears that, just prior to the attack, Adam’s parents were abducted by some shadowy official department – an abduction made all the more relevant by the fact that Adam’s father is an eminent geologist. So begins an engaging subplot of unfolding conspiracy that ultimately becomes the book’s key strength.

      Gallon also skillfully plumbs the topical issue of the erosion of civil liberties in the fight against imagined terrorism, while never taking his foot off the accelerator. Scenes chop and change faster than a J-pop video, but for all the frenetic pacing very little action actually happens at the start of the story. Admittedly, it’s difficult to ignore the persistent drizzle of A-bombs, but on a personal level almost everything remains focused on the political manoeuverings that fuel Greeley’s derranged hijacking of Capital Hill. It’s all very West Wing seen through a glass darkly, all very The Day After Tomorrow rather than The Omega Man. So a novel sitting right on the cusp between sci-fi adventure and techno thriller. Not exactly a no-man’s land as far as potential fans are concerned, but still of limited appeal to those who like their Armageddons seasoned with giant robots, aliens, vampires and genetically warped children.