The Last President

After a very, very, very long time, I've finally finished The Last President, third in the Daybreak series by John Barnes (I think it was originally going to be a trilogy, but then there was a kerfuffle with the publisher, and then the 3rd book got delayed, and now there will be more books--I'm assuming with a different publisher/self-published).

I'm not a runner.  If my life depended on running, I'd be dead.  In fact, I probably wouldn't even try to run.  I'd just curl up and wait for the end.  That's how bad of a runner I am.  I'm not in horrible shape (she says totally subjectively).  I mean, I hike in the Rockies.  I just.  Can't.  Run.  Therefore, I cannot fathom the concept of running a marathon.  I have the most respect for people who do it.  Heck, I wanna high five the people jogging on the treadmills at the gym (I stay over in free weights, where no one will make me run anywhere).

I have just run a mental marathon.  That marathon is called the Daybreak Marathon.  At times, I wanted to quit.  I really, really, really wanted to quit.  At other points, I found myself enjoying the journey.  But now?  I'm just exhausted.  And a bit cranky.  And hungry, which has nothing to do with any of this, but you all should know that I love to snack.

Okay.  *cracks knuckles*  The Last President.  I read Directive 51 when it first came out, and I had a lot of problems with the structure of the novel.  The author did not make it clear what year it was until quite a ways into the narrative, so you're kind of floundering around with all these made up cultural and political events.  Nothing had a date, so everything just jumped all over the place.  Plus, there were scads of pages devoted solely to people bickering about who should be the next president. Personally, I think that if a crazy mind-altering viral meme (which is what Daybreak is explained to be...yeah, keep scratching your head.  It doesn't help) caused millions of people to revolt against technology and society and create a nanoswarm that eats all metal and plastic, then, well, why the heck is priority numero uno having a president?

In his post on John Scalzi's Whatever, Barnes discusses this.  I can acknowledge what he was trying to do, but that doesn't mean that I think it was executed particularly well, nor do I have to like the idea itself.  So, Barnes said that he wanted to do a bit of a political procedural (hence the line of succession) but also this sort of wild, chaotic narrative that reflected the environment depicted in the novel.  Confusing.  Prone to sudden change.  Merciless.  I think he accomplished that.  However, just because a person wants to write something a certain way doesn't mean it's the best choice for the type of book being written.

In one post on his own blog, John Barnes discusses fiction that he doesn't like (perfectly fair--we are all entitled to our opinions) and cites, as an example of fiction he does like, A Confederacy of Dunces.  Yes, that does have the sort of disjointed, jumpy narrative that we have in The Last President.  However, the two books are about radically different topics.  I think that a book that describes military maneuvering, political jockeying, memes-as-mind-control, secession of states, and various other technical doodahs should have a more linear narrative.  That's just me, though.  Maybe I'm not *smart enough* to get what the author was trying to accomplish.

To be fair, I have read that there were issues with the publisher changing substantial parts of the first two books, which can cramp someone's artistic vision.  But.

I was thisclose to not finishing The Last President more times than I can count.  I would get so frustrated with these endless descriptions of army marches with weapons I forgot existed from the first two books.  I was pulling my hair out trying to remember who all these people were, and when I did remember, then Barnes just left them out of the rest of the book.  I guess this is supposed to mimic real life, where stuff happens randomly.  BUT!  In real life, people also talk about bad things after the event.  They are not mindless drones who just carry on with life as if nothing ever happened.

Heather O'Grainne, who was a Big Deal in the first two books, sort of drifts around in this one.  Leo, her son, is like a stage prop that the director tosses up there to make everything look more homey.  I honestly couldn't connect with any of the characters because they were so darn flat.  I could drag race a car on their flatness.  Characters that we spent two full novels following are killed off at an alarming rate, leaving us with ... uh, very few people.  This small group then decides that what they've been doing for the past almost-three-novels is, in fact, a Bad Idea and they run away to someplace warm.  Also: aliens!

I can't completely hate this book.  In fact, I don't even strongly dislike it.  I mildly dislike it.  I do like the scenario presented, and I would consider (tortuously) dragging myself through further novels just to see what happens.  It's a chancy thing, though.


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