The first installment of Tyler Dean Milligan’s planned post-apocalyptic State of Contempt saga is set in America’s Midwest after an apparent electromagnetic pulse attack destroys the US power grid, quickly transforming the country into a lawless wasteland.
Set in the near future (2035), the story begins in a military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, where Army veteran Duke Hollander is nearing the end of his sentence when an airplane crashes into the main building, causing chaos and offering prisoners a means to escape. Hollander is initially reluctant – all he wants is to serve his time and get back to his family in Colorado – but when a fellow inmate tells him that the airplane crash might be the beginning of an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it event, Hollander decides to risk becoming a fugitive and escapes in the turmoil.
Hollander’s freedom, however, is perilous, and as he attempts to make his way to Colorado, he witnesses numerous horrors. Complicating matters, a sworn enemy bent on revenge is tracking him through the hellscape of destroyed towns and nomadic cannibals.
There’s a lot to like here. The characters are well developed, the intensity is impressively high and the narrative’s dangling plot threads could lead to a more grand-scale storyline in future installments. The dark apocalyptic atmosphere and philosophical revelations at the world’s possible end are satisfying. The exposition reads: “Human beings were intended to be the nurturers that helped nature thrive. But they ended up being a virus that made it sick.”
The concern is that this installment brings nothing new to the genre of apocalyptic fiction. It’s all been envisioned in works such as William R. Forstchen’s One Second After, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road, Ben Bova’s Colony, etc.
This is a solid novel, but the challenge for Milligan is whether he can differentiate this story from the hundreds that came before. If he can, then this series has the potential to be something special.