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Friday 22 December 2023


Brendan DuBois’s alternate history novel Resurrection Day was published in 1999. The ‘what if?’ scenario is tantalising indeed: What if the Cuban Missile Crisis had become a full-blown war?

It’s 1972, ten years after the nuclear bombs were dropped. Russia was crushed: ‘... no more large cities, no more government. Just tribes of people, trying to survive in muddy villages that could have existed in the Middle Ages, a decade after an entity called SAC had obliterated their nation from the earth’ (p65). California is virtually destroyed, New York has been depopulated, Washington DC lies beneath a giant crater lake. Europe is unscathed – Nato collapsed. Presidential elections are due at the end of the year. What was left of the United States relied on aid from Great Britain; the USA was shamed and ostracised by the international community because it let the nuclear genie out of the bottle.

Carl Landry, ex-US Army, is now a civilian, a journalist on the Boston Globe newspaper. The paper is heavily edited by an army Captain in accordance with the Martial Law Declaration of 1962 and the National Emergency Declaration of 1963. The Land of the Free no longer has free speech. ‘Why torture yourself, remembering  full supermarket shelves, clean clothes, steady power, and a government that didn’t hunt down draft dodgers and didn’t censor the news and didn’t run labour camps for the dissidents, the protesters, the ones that didn’t belong. That time was gone, was never coming back, not ever’ (p99).

Landry is approached by an aging veteran who has some important papers; they arrange to meet next day, but the vet is murdered, his apartment trashed.

Making enquiries, Landry learns of the deaths of the vet’s neighbours and friends. ‘... when the current national death rates and the results of the 1970 census were both kept secret because of national security, well, if life wasn’t cheap, it certainly wasn’t worth much’ (p51).

He begins to dig – and is warned off more than once: ‘Carl knew he had entered the murky land of late-night arrests, ‘disappearances’, and closed-door trials’ (p162). He was also attacked by an orfie gang – comprising feral orphans of the war.

He befriends Sandy Price, a journalist for the Times of London. She’s beautiful and clever. When they are both co-opted on a fact-finding mission to New York for their papers, they jump at the chance. And then things get weird and hairy, not least because there’s a faction that believes President Kennedy didn’t die in Washington, but still lives; his resurrection could screw the forthcoming elections, indeed.

DuBois has managed to create believable and often sympathetic characters, as well as a post-war situation that seems credible. It was an immersive experience. I zipped through the 580 pages in no time.

An impressive addition to the vast library of ‘what if?’ novels.

Editorial comment:

‘Think, he thought. Just take a deep breath and think’ (p471). Probably would have read better like this: Think, dammit. Just take a deep breath and think. No need for ‘he thought’.

Character names: Jim Rowley and Captain Rowland are quite close; never cause confusion but could easily have been more different.

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