Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: Twilight's Last Gleaming

Twilight's Last Gleaming by John Michael Greer
Let's take a short detour today, pulling our attention away from the civil war in Ukraine, the disintegration of the fever-dream fictions of Sykes-Picot that are Syria and Iraq, and the colossal tower of fraud and bezzle the West calls a financial system these days.

I want to discuss a recent book by John Michael Greer, telling the tale of the disintegration of the United States in the wake of a military defeat in Africa. I have found over time that good fiction can give us a snapshot of a culture's mood as well as get us thinking about the consequences of our decisions as a people and a country. This is one of those novels.

The Book

Twilight's Last Gleaming is set in the mid-2020s. It opens to news of the discovery of a giant oil field off the coast of Tanzania. At the time of this very important find, Tanzania is aligned with China via trade agreements and as a recipient of Chinese investment in infrastructure.

The United States moves to shift Tanzania into its orbit and the result is a very unexpected military defeat orchestrated by China. The shock to the political culture, the economy, and the social structure of the U.S. results in the various states calling a Constitutional Convention. The Convention begins with intentions of solving the problem of overreach by the federal government, but leads to the dissolution of the Union.

The story is told through the eyes of various players in the events, from soldiers, to politicians, to journalists. We watch as they handle (and mishandle) a chaotic financial and political landscape far removed from the country and the lifestyle they had known before the crisis.

My Review

This isn't your standard doomer fiction, where the world immediately collapses into a scene straight out of Mad Max, but a fairly nuanced view of one way the combined pressures of poor fiscal choices and military setbacks could fracture the United States, and what that might look like.

This book is based on a series of five blog posts at Mr. Greer's Archdruid Report in October of 2012 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) in which he used fiction to outline a rather optimistic version of how the United States might stumble into devolution. I say optimistic in the sense that in this fictional scenario, the political process plays itself out with minimal internal violence. The fractured remains of the country work themselves into new political arrangements and find themselves on many different paths to the future.

If you only know the basics of Mr. Greer's background and have not read his weekly blog, you would expect this to be a heavy-handed diatribe, a combination of the angry but plodding prose of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here mixed with tiresome Hippie rants and apocalyptic Gaia-hates-humans whinging. Happily for us, Mr. Greer is an excellent wordsmith, is well-read in history and politics, and apparently has had to make a living writing long enough to know the story must come first. The novel is long on story and action, leavened with just enough dash of Peak Oil and Global Warming to add a more sinister context to events without spoiling the book.

Twilight's Last Gleaming plays on several levels:
  • It is an above-average military thriller that will appeal to fans of Tom Clancy's early works. His focus on how a new era in air power and naval strategy might arise comes straight from current war games and military analyses on how the U.S. is handling the build-out of the next generation of fighter jets and carriers.
  • On another level, this is a political thriller, where the machinations of various politicians, foreign and domestic, play out across the globe.
  • It describes the financial crash in terms anyone who has read The Great Reckoning, Bankruptcy 1995, and various financial thrillers would find familiar. We walk the road from debt collapse, to hyperinflation and currency collapse, to political fragmentation with various characters, watching how they do their best to survive the circumstances.
  • The background is informed by the concept of Peak Oil and how a world system attuned to the constant supply of cheap petroleum is going to suffer problems when the supply is less reliable and harder to sustain.
I found it well worth the read.  It is also the kind of book that is worth reading more than once. Mr. Greer is well-read and there are many little nuggets sprinkled throughout the novel that are worth pondering, not to mention the double-meanings in many of the names chosen for key political characters.

The novel tells a story of one way in which we in the U.S. might find ourselves navigating this swamp of negative mood, and what we might find when we finally stumble from that swamp into the new era which awaits us on the other side.

You can get a preview via Google Reader here.

Two thumbs up.

The Author

John Michael Greer maintains a blog called The Archdruid Report and has been a unique figure among key figures who have been discussing and describing Peak Oil over the years. His blog uses the concept of Peak Oil to discuss the rise and fall of civilizations (ours included), dissect the notion of Progress inherent in the Western mindset for several centuries now, and talks about practical ways of handling a more chaotic and energy-limited future.


Fred said...

Das Flagg!

Got this book on interlibrary loan. Very interesting topic.

Fred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Flagg707 said...

@Fred: Glad you enjoyed it. I think it was a well-done military/political thriller that poses some questions worth asking.

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