Since COVID, I have developed a taste for The-End-of-Civilization-as-We-Know-It books, and that brings me to David Koepp’s novel, Aurora. The novel is set post-COVID, and it’s a world in which some people are solidly prepared for the next disaster (or so they think), but the majority are focused on surviving day-to-day. The novel opens with almost breath-taking speed when scientists discover that a CME (coronal mass ejection) will take out most of the world’s power grids within hours. This leaves the world, and for the purposes of this story, North America, without electricity. Ok, so we have all ridden out a power outage, but how would we survive if that power outage extended to 6 months? A year? It wouldn’t be pretty.
The novel follows two storylines: billionaire Thom Banning is totally prepared for the next apocalypse–so much so that when he gets the news of the impending Black Sky Event, he’s excited. He’s an obsessive control freak, and the prospect of a societal meltdown kicks his plan into gear. He hustles his pissed-off wife, 2 children and a carefully selected number of staff to his compound in Utah. The compound is a renovated government nuclear missile underground silo. Thom bought this for a pittance and then ploughed millions into his prepper project. Some of those millions are locked in the underground bunker. It’s a entire compound with armed guards and a guard house. There’s a:
six thousand-square-foot modernist chateau nestled into the artificial hillside beside the gatehouse. It was designed to shelter a single family, Thom’s family, for as long as things stayed somewhat docile out in the world at large. But the real masterpiece, for when the shit really hit the fan, was all underground, inside the converted silo, which was now fourteen floors of scrupulously conceived subterranean living space.
The second storyline follows Thom’s sister Aubrey who lives in Illinois with her teenage stepson, Scott, the remnant of an ugly marriage to Rusty–a low-life whose addictions took over his life, and his marriage. Thom’s prepper plans included whipping Aubrey into readiness, but when the lights go out, Aubrey has a total of 11 cans of beans in the basement. …
We see the wealthy hit the road on the way to their mountain hideouts while those in the suburbs scramble for food, find strength in numbers and show great ingenuity. Meanwhile, the slums get slummier, and crime spills from the have-nots with alarming alacrity.
David Koepp is a screenwriter and it shows here in this remarkably visual page-turner. I was not surprised to read that there’s a film version in the works. For the first 9/10 of the book, I thought this would be one of my reads of the year, but in spite of a fantastic start and some highly dramatic scenes right towards the end, for this reader, the book finished with a fizzle. That said, it’s a perfect cinematic ending. We hear about social unrest across America, but the action stays focused on Thom and Aubrey. Thom, in his “Fuhrerbunker” discovers the hard way that you can plan for every scenario, but the vagaries of human nature are impossible to control. I had to laugh at the ways his meticulously devised plan melted down almost immediately. Hilarious.