Book Review: Collapse by Richard Stephenson

Collapse by Richard Stephenson – 1 star

BOOK ONE in the NEW AMERICA series.

What would it take for the United States to fall from within? In a not too distant future, America is put to the test. With the American people deep in The Second Great Depression and two of the most powerful hurricanes on record to contend with, the United States is in no condition to deal with hidden terrorists on its soil, maniacal politicians, and the most formidable military threat the world has seen since the Third Reich.  

This is the story of three men from three very different walks of life: Howard Beck, the world’s richest man, also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome; Richard Dupree, ex-Navy SEAL turned escaped convict; and Maxwell Harris, a crippled, burned-out chief of police of a small Texas town. At first, they must overcome their own struggles and fight for their survival against impossible odds. In the end, the unlikely trio must band together to save their beloved country from COLLAPSE. 

Empires topple. Nations crumble. Civilization is fragile. In 2027, America will fall.

This book starts fine. Then it descends into bucketloads of exposition. At least half of the book is told instead of shown, and a solid chunk feels like reading a dry history textbook. Once it finally gets to actual scenes with actual people instead of their backstories and world history, it’s more readable and interesting, but it returns to exposition, over and over.

The book reads like it’s intended to be a disaster movie with thriller elements. It follows three different men, each of them struggling to survive during the collapse of the United States due to various problems all happening at once: a hurricane, war, economic disaster, and internal collapse.

The one point I especially found difficult to swallow was the fate of Florida overall. The explanation of hurricane Luther suggests the author didn’t research how hurricanes and meteorology actually work. The aftermath is an overly pessimistic view, one that doesn’t match the realities of human nature.  And while I can buy that a massive disaster can make it difficult to get relief to an area, the idea of a successful quarantine of an entire state is bizarre. If that state was Rhode Island or Hawaii, maybe, but Florida? Reporters (both professional and amateur) are more tenacious and devious than that. So are international relief workers.

I was willing to give a pass to the AI (whose name, Hal, is openly attributed to 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times; in case you didn’t get the joke the first four times, it’s helpfully spelled out the fifth) as reasonable for roughly 15 years into the future. Things kept getting added on top of it, though. From poverty camps in Central Park to an Iranian Empire of Evil Nuclear Doom to other things, this book just has too much. Although later points aren’t so far-fetched, the early ones destroyed my suspension of disbelief too much to accept the ‘natural’ evolution of the story.

The characters themselves are alright. I liked Max at first, until his Terrible Secret was rolled out and just used as a reason why he’s single. His romance with Elizabeth didn’t do anything for me, either – it felt contrived, as if the only reason it happened was because obviously a woman should fall in love with her boss. Richard gave me the reverse feeling, wherein I didn’t care about him at first, then I got interested. For him, too, though, the non-prison crisis in his life felt contrived. Howard…is more a curiosity than anything else. He’s done well enough, but not very interesting.

The story jumps around in time, and it’s not always clear when the current chapter takes place. Later chapters begin with recaps of earlier chapters, which is insulting to the reader. The inclusion of the bigger picture chapters only serve to confuse and distract from the stories of the three men.

I like thrillers, and I like disaster stories, but I did not like this book. Without the vast quantities of exposition, I could probably have enjoyed it enough for 3 stars, as the writing overall isn’t bad.

1 comment

  1. Stinks that the story wasn’t as fun as the cover art. While not the most amazing cover I have ever seen, it still manages to stick out and capture my interest.

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