World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters. Or, World of truths.

World of Trouble

January 2015
Recommended for fans of the apocalypse, philosophy, missing-persons cases
 ★    ★    ★    ★    ★   

Almost always, things are exactly as they appear. People are continually looking at the painful or boring parts of life with the half-hidden expectation that there is more going on beneath the surface, some deeper meaning that will eventually be unveiled; we’re waiting for the saving grace, the shocking reveal. But almost always things just are what they are, almost always there’s no glittering ore hidden under the dirt.

I’ve been reading two books about asteroids hitting Earth with opposite reactions. In Lucifer’s Hammer, I’m literally forcing myself to pick up the book and read, hoping I’ll get to the point where the magic will develop and I’ll remain engaged until the end. Then there is The Last Policeman trilogy, which has kept me riveted–to the point where I’ve finished the entire trilogy before reaching page 200 in Hammer. Same rough plot line in both: an impending asteroid is headed toward Earth. The brilliance of The Last Policeman is that the scenario is based on an Everyman hero, a police officer advanced beyond his skill level, who has been choosing to solve mysteries in the last six months of life. Hammer explores the end of the world with a much larger cast, and as such, loses focus on the human tragedy, sacrificing quiet truth for plot points. Both acknowledge that despair will have some likely outcomes: “The most likely scenario, after all, is that this blood is the blood of a stranger, and these knives are totally unrelated to my current investigation. It’s just some terrible act of violence among uncounted terrible acts of violence occurring at an accelerating rate.

World of Trouble, the final book in The Last Policeman trilogy was a powerful, moving read. Plotting stays true to the first two books while advancing both the story about the end of the world and the story of Henry Palace’s development. Or rather, de-volvement. Palace has left the safety and security of the house he was living at and has set off with the hoarder and trader Cortez for Ohio to search for his sister Nico.

This has been an extremely interesting series: engaging, somewhat unsettling, with a background of rising tension–much like The Southern Reach Trilogy. For me, The Last Policeman trilogy is about the meat of what it means to be human and what it means to be a member of society. “And the fact is that what Cortez said actually has the ring of truth. Not that kind of girl. But neither was Peter Zell that kind of guy. Nobody is the kind of person they used to be.” Winters is a genius with character–much like Tana French–and while I generally start out liking Peter, I end up liking him less and less, because I want him to be so much more than he is. I want him to be the hero. I want him to solve people’s problems, I want him to live with integrity in the face of society’s breakdown, and I want him to take care of the damn dog instead of letting it run around matted and limping. And though he continues to disappoint, I still have compassion for him because he is so very human. And so very familiar: “I was right, all along, in my pedantic obnoxious small-minded insistence that the truth was true.

There’s humor here, so there are a few moments of levity in the midst of the missing persons search and the impending impact. A side remark about the DSM-IV for “astromania’ made me snicker, and one particular image struck me with its brilliance: “It’s like the man has re-created his natural habitat below the world, a scumbag terrarium.” But mostly I keep reading for the truths Winter leads me to and Palace’s evolving understanding of humanity:

It’s not just a person’s present that dies when they die, when they are murdered or drowned or a giant rock falls on their head. It’s the past, too, all the memories that belonged only to them, the things they thought and never said. And all those possible futures, all the ways that life might have turned out. Past and future and present all burn up together like a bundle of sticks.

Highly recommended.



About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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7 Responses to World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters. Or, World of truths.

  1. fromcouchtomoon says:

    Wow, excellent review. I keep reading great things about this series, and seeing you compare it to a similar, but failed attempt really seals it for me.

  2. bookmole says:

    Just moved up my To Read list.

  3. bookmole says:

    And I don’t remember Hammer being that dull! When did it come out, though, cos that was when I read it for the one and only time. And that shows something. I’ve read some of Niven’s books (the Belter loosely connected series, for instance, and the Ringworld series) more than once.

    Wow, 1977. And I would have read it that year, or maybe ’78, when the paperback was released.

    • thebookgator says:

      I would have read it, and I think you are likely right, there’s a reason you didn’t keep re-reading. However, I did some half-hearted searching, and I think it was one of the first books to seriously use the asteroid plot, which might have been sparked off by impending Halley’s Comet. The moon landing was less than 10 years earlier, so I’m sure that was part of the reason the space scenes were integrated. The science of the disaster seemed on point as well. But the character focus! So unfocused. We start with a Beverley Hills socialite party, and I’m not sure we every saw the couple again, but it introduced us to the discoverer and the Senator. Just scattered storytellilng.

  4. Pingback: Countdown City by Ben Winters. The more things change… | book reviews forevermore

  5. Pingback: 2015 A Reading Year in Review (not the city) | book reviews forevermore

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