Review: Alex Scarrow's Last Light

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Review: Alex Scarrow's Last Light

Postby scourgewriter » Sat Jan 01, 2011 4:43 pm

Rating: 4 out of 5...things

I believe it was either George Orwell or Lady Gaga (I forget who) who said that every civilization was three meals away from anarchy. Alex Scarrow contests that optimistic if not naïve assertion of our society’s fortitude with his apocalyptic thriller Last Light about the Peak Oil collapse set primarily in England taking place over the course of a week in 2007 (using a back of the envelope calculation gleamed from the book).

Andy Sutherland is an engineer who years ago was hired by an unknown group of men to draft a report discussing when peak oil production would begin its decline and what circumstances could cause a sudden worldwide stall in oil production and distribution. From his own research, Andy realized that the scenario known as “Peak Oil” was inevitable and had become obsessed with the whole collapse of civilization thing, so much so that it had all but ended at his marriage to his wife Jenny.

Andy is an Iraq as a contractor working on restoring the oil pipelines when a series of attacks takes place in Saudi Arabia to include major oil production sites, the Kabbah in Mecca, which sets off an epic Sunni/Shi’a civil war throughout the Middle East, along with attacks in the straits of Hormuz, and at oil production sites in Venezuela. The attacks instantaneously cripple the world’s access to oil.

Back in England, the British Prime Minister learns that they only have two weeks in reserves. He knows he must completely clamp down on all travel, and all food and petrol commercially available in order to ensure that Britain may survive the sudden loss of access to oil. He must explain to the people why he is recalling the soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as explain the road closures and enactment of martial law as a response to a terrorist threat rather than as a response to the sudden loss of access to oil; otherwise, he knows it the truth would cause panic. But despite his concern over causing panic, he hopes to evoke a “Dunkirk spirit” in the British people.

Unfortunately, the PM reveals too much in a press conference and the media sensing the true threat push the “everyone split open your neighbor’s head and feast on the gooey grey matter” button throughout England. Within hours after the disastrous press conference, the stuffy urban island known for its marmite, corduroy pants and the people’s ability to queue, descends into anarchy.

Andy’s soon to be ex-wife Jenny is away in Manchester at a job interview while Andy’s daughter Leona is away at college in Norwich. Andy sees the coordinated attacks for what they are and knows that his family is in danger, particularly his daughter Leona. Although he wife Jenny accused him of being paranoid, Andy was convinced that the men who paid him for the report on Peak Oil years ago were watching him. His daughter Leona accidentally walked in on these men as a child when he was delivering the report and she recently mentioned seeing one of these men in an email to Andy. Using the few minutes remaining on his satellite phone before the coverage falters, he convinces Leona and his wife to head to their friend’s place back in London and stock up on pilchards and bottled water. His fears are not unwarranted as a man is seeking to assassinate Leona.

Jenny and Leona have to find her way to London with the highways closed and all public transportation halted. Along the way, Jenny and Leona see first hand the brutality of people desperate and scared who are suddenly cut off from running water and a secure source of food and electricity. Andy who teams up with a platoon of British soldiers slog their own way out of Iraq by crossing into Turkey. We learn that the attacks on the major production and distribution nodes have been carefully orchestrated by the same men Andy had drafted the report on Peak Oil years ago.

Scarrow skillfully conveys how contrary to the popular platitude, the social contract unravels long before anyone feels the first pangs of hunger. I think there is no better place to explore the thin veil of civility theme than Britain, a nation that is the chief signifier of civilization. There’s something about that island nation with its densely packed streets and rolling countryside that beckons writers to explore our inner savagery beset against manicured lawns and corner shops. Throughout, the characters repeat to themselves “This can’t happen here, this is Britain,” amidst scenes of rape, looting and un-tethered teenaged debauchery run amok. While people still have cans in their cupboards the island, long known for its order and propriety, reverts to a Hobbesian state of nature, proving that the social contract exists only so long as we collectively agree that it does. Scarrow refutes Britain’s purported “Dunkirk spirit” and “keep a stiff upper lip” attitude in the face of horror, which as an American I found a little disappointing. I always loved perceiving the English that way; however, Scarrow artfully demonstrates how the modern hyper-wired world and twenty-four hour infotainment news cycle has eroded any such notion, at least on a collective level.

Scarrow goes off the range a wee bit in the end when the assassin who works for the architects of the attacks reveals a litany of implausible conspiracies were perpetrated by the same secret puppet masters over the course of centuries. Maybe Scarrow having a little fun with conspiracy theorists or is trying to make a statement about conspiracies. Also, the characters mention the term “apocalypse” a little too often, sort of taking the fun out of the end of times by actually saying it and it makes it less apocalyptic. It’s kind of like when you’re having fun doing—I don’t know—jumping on a neighbor’s trampoline drunk late at night or something, and your friend says, “hey, isn’t this fun?” and it somehow takes away from the moment. I don’t know if that makes sense. But that being said, Scarrow wrote a captivating novel whose sympathetic characters forced me to stay up with them way past my bedtime to see them through the beginning of the end of the oil age.

And be sure to pick up my novel Scourge of an Agnostic God, a plucky apocalyptic tale that celebrates the human spirit and a frivolous pop culture that unites us. See the trailer here at http://scourgeofanagnosticgod.com/site/?page_id=24
"Cyborgs don't feel pain. I do."
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