My Review of His Riveting Novel, “Sowing Chaos”
By Jeff Salter
When I learned that John Babb had written a prequel, of sorts, to Bill Webb’s exciting, action-packed series, “The Last Brigade” — naturally, I had to coerce him into a return visit. This time I’m reviewing his new novel, “Sowing Chaos.”
If you’d like to refresh your memory about Babb’s background, check out my interview with him from just over a year ago:
“America has a lot of enemies, and 23 years after 9/11 those enemies are ready to take down the Republic once and for all. Poisoned food, wrecked bridges, anthrax attack — the government considers them as isolated incidents, but not everyone is so blind.”
John Babb comes from a background in pharmacy and public health. For several years, he worked in the Office of the Surgeon General, and a part of his responsibilities was to think about various threats to our country (biological, chemical, explosive, radiological, and nuclear), and to consider how his service, the U.S. Public Health Service, might respond to those threats. Sowing Chaos is an attempt to tell a story packed with scenarios which hopefully will make the reader realize that these threats are not only completely feasible, but absolutely possible. Indeed, it might be an accumulation of these events which would require the Last Brigade Universe to come to life.
By John Babb
Dingbat Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Jeff Salter
When I say this story is riveting, you may think I’m tossing around a term used by NYT reviewers who hope their names end up on the covers of best-selling books they reviewed. Nope, not the case here. This story IS riveting… and what makes it so is that all the calamitous developments are chillingly plausible.
Aptly titled, Babb’s novel features one devasting catastrophe after another, each set in place by a lunatic dictator who will be recognizable to all. Though set a few years in the future, the events of Sowing Chaos could easily be today’s very headlines.
That title says it all: chaos all over America’s lower 48 states in a wide-ranging array of terrorist attacks – by a rogue foreign actor – to create as much chaos as possible with the highest body count imaginable. It’s a coordinated campaign of insidious NBC attacks – along with more conventional disruptions – designed to maximize impact, damage… and cause panic and fear. One of their aims is to crush the (American) human spirit, while dismantling our nation with one devasting catastrophe after another. Just when the reader thinks it couldn’t possibly get any worse… it does.
The reader cringes with the multiple situations and devastations… and we’re on the edge of our chairs as certain individuals find themselves in horrific danger. Among the most suspenseful is the pivotal role – early in the story – of CIA nurse Angela Martinelli, who goes undercover in North Korea to learn as much as possible about the terrorists being trained. Of course, there’s so much compartmentalization (about the multi-facet schemes) that no single person knows much of anything except his own assignment.
This novel ties in as a distant prequel to William Allan Webb’s Last Brigade Universe… as readers of those stories should readily recognize. [See NOTE # 1, below] But it also stands alone — and powerfully.
Babb’s fiction is frighteningly believable and the author’s background / experience [in medical / scientific disasters] provides the type of intricate, authentic detail that compels the reader to wonder how soon these may actually occur. [See NOTE # 2, below] The author brings his varied career and experience into play in every catastrophic scene.
It’s an ambitious plot with interesting characters — both among the evil criminals and the good people intent on stopping them. While most of the characters are fully drawn, a few (in my opinion) feel like little more than place-holders. I say that because the main thing that doesn’t ring true in this novel is that I can’t believe the principals in those high level strategy meetings would be that agreeable and cooperative. Until, that is, about Chapter 37, when we start to see their collegial personas crumble more realistically (under the dire circumstances they face).
One other complaint – which I cannot reveal here (because it’s a big spoiler) – has to do with continuity.
Those two minor beefs aside, this will be a heck of a ride for fans of action / political thrillers. But I’m warning you, it’s riveting.
NOTE # 1
[Babb]: When I read Webb’s five novels related to what was happening 50 years after America’s Collapse, I wondered what might have been the factor or factors which precipitated such a dramatic destruction. So I began to write Sowing Chaos to describe how such a thing might occur. (I’ve got another pre-collapse novel in the can, describing what came immediately after Sowing Chaos, titled Chaos Unleashed. The second story is another link in the chain between what is today’s “normal” and Bill Webb’s stark universe.)
NOTE # 2
[Babb]: My background … I was formerly an Assistant Surgeon General and Rear Admiral (retired) in the U.S. Public Health Service. One of my primary responsibilities in the Office of the Surgeon General [besides deploying medical and public health teams to respond to events like 9/11, the anthrax letters, Foot & Mouth Disease in England, Bird Influenza in the DelMarVa peninsula, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, mass shootings, suicide clusters, wild fires, and even the Indian Ocean Tsunami] was to think about, plan for, and train for a wide variety of unexpected events — much like those various terrorist attacks described in the book. For twenty years, I’ve been talking about botulinum toxin attacks on our milk supply, a nuclear attack (and the huge shortage of medical personnel who are unacquainted with treating victims of severe radiation poisoning), a re-occurrence of a large New Madrid Quake, and attacks on our food supply. So this book was an attempt to awaken people to those many possibilities, plus encourage more funding and training for First Responders.
[JLS # 540]