After Shock is the second novel in the E-Force series, comprised of State of Emergency, Aftershock and the upcoming Nano. Sam Fisher is the pseudonym Michael White (interviewed here) uses for his E-Force novels: action-adventure novels, incorporating cutting edge technology.
Aftershock makes complete sense as a standalone novel to a reader who has not read State of Emergency.
The prologue sets up the story:
’The world needs an organization that can go into disaster zones and save lives, superfast,’ declared Colonel Mark Harrison. And he was a man who made things happen.
It took him a year to get anyone to listen to his plan and then a further three years before his dream became reality. But when it did, he found himself leader of a team that could go into any emergency anywhere in the world and save lives. He called his team E-Force.
During the team’s first mission, they were called in to rescue Senator Kyle Foreman who was trapped in a bombed out building in Los Angeles. The team had not yet completed their training but were catapulted into action regardless.
It is now almost six months since E-Force’s first mission. The team have gained a great deal of experience since that excursion to rescue Senator Foreman. They are as ready as ever, and waiting for action.
In Aftershock, billionaire Michael Xavier has completed the $5 billion underwater Neptune Hotel off the coast of Fiji. This luxury hotel 100 metres below the ocean surface is the culmination of his lifelong ambition. He has worked hard for many years to make the Neptune Hotel happen. As one character – TV news producer, Terry Mitcham – tells reporter Harry Flanders, before Harry he heads off to cover the official opening of the hotel:
‘Two brothers – the ambitious and hyper-intelligent Michael, now in his late forties, and his clearly dimmer, slightly younger sibling, Johnny Xavier. They shared a childhood fantasy of creating a hotel on the ocean floor. As kids, they grow up in an ordinary lower-middle-class family home in Hampshire, share a room and plaster the walls with pictures of submarines, sci fi designs for underwater bases, and presumably watch every episode of Stingray ever made. Michael becomes an incredibly successful businessman, the head of a global media corporation which he started as a student at Cambridge selling advertising on his own radio station. He carries young Johnny along with him, and by the time he’s 35, Michael is a billionaire and decides to start living out the fantasy.’
So, anyway. ten years ago Michael and Johnny form a company, bring in a range of investors, ranging from futurist nuts to some heavy players,’ Terry went on. ‘Branson included,’ he added wryly. ‘They decide to locate the hotel off Fiji and call in the best marine engineers, architects, designers and materials experts to help them draw up a feasibility plan. It takes even a Michael Xavier five years to get the financial backing, the permissions from the Fijian government, clearance from environmental agencies, the UN, you name it.’
When we read on and get to know more about the Neptune Hotel, and the people involved in designing, constructing and running it, we discover a number of relationships in danger of being torn apart. The opening of the hotel is the pinnacle of Michael Xavier’s life but his wife, and mother of their two children, has taken to drinking; his brother Johnny, head of operations at the hotel, has been cutting corners in the construction and fitting out of the hotel, is receiving threats and has a disrespectful employee covering for his corner cutting. Meanwhile celebrities, journalists and other guests are converging on the hotel for its big opening.
The depth and subtle nuances of the character relationships contribute to making Aftershock more than just any action-adventure novel. The following excerpt is from a scene between Michael Xavier and his wife, shortly before the Grand Opening of the Neptune Hotel:
She suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of sadness hit her. She swallowed hard and gazed around the room. Her focus wasn’t too good suddenly. A tear rolled down her cheek. She brushed it away with an angry swipe of her palm, smudging her makeup.
She refilled her glass.
All this was becoming so familiar. She drank to forget and then she had to put on a big act to make her kids believe she was sober. But sometimes, sometimes, she just wished she could really let go. ‘But what would I do?’ she asked the TV. ‘Run away?’ She started to giggle. ‘Oh, yeah!’
She went to refill her glass and realised the bottle was empty. Flinging it to one side of the sofa, she stood up. Reaching for another bottle on the cabinet, she slipped on a slice of lemon, started to crash forward into the array of bottles and just caught herself in time. At that moment, the door opened and Michael Xavier walked in.
‘What’re you doing?’
‘What does it look like, Michael?’
Xavier sighed heavily and walked over to his wife. He went to put a hand on her shoulder. She flinched. He took a step back, looked at the floor and said, ‘Did you have to? Tonight?’
‘Tonight? Oh yes, it’s your night of triumph, isn’t it, my darling?’
Michael Xavier gave her an exasperated look that made her feel like a 10-year-old schoolgirl. It infuriated her. To cover her anger, she laughed, lost her balance again and gripped the edge of the cabinet to steady herself.
‘For God’s sake, Hilary. What about the…?’
She glared at him. ‘Don’t dare say: “What about the kids?” You wouldn’t be that big a hypocrite.’
He gave Hilary another pitying glance, and the dam burst. She stepped towards her husband and went to slap him across the face. Catching her hand before it made contact, Michael tried to guide her to the sofa, but she pulled away, seething, her eyes aflame. ‘Don’t!’ she screamed. ‘We don’t need you here, Michael. Go off to help the crews, help the staff, do something, anything, except be with us. The kids hardly know you anyway.’
Michael stared at her expressionless. ‘This isn’t the time…’
By the time of the Grand Opening, Sam Fisher (Michael White) has done a great job of creating characters who a reader can care about. As the entertainment commences for the Grand Opening, something goes terribly wrong:
“The audience moved to the hypnotic throb of the bass line. The sound grew as the first verse ended and the band crashed into the chorus. Kristy’s voice soared above the music, a melody that had blasted from a million radios three years earlier, a hooky tune that had girdled the world. The sound reverberated around the dome, soaring and swooping into a solitary synthesiser riff. A hush as Kristy’s voice came in again, quiet and pleading.
For a second, everyone thought it was a bass drum. Everyone but the drummer, that is.
The room shook. The music stopped. The high pitched hum of powerful amplifiers bounced around the glass dome. Then came a solitary shriek of feedback.
The room shook again. A lighting rig tumbled forward and smashed across a table.
The entire dome shook.
A metal beam crashed to the floor, crushing a score of people. Tables flew through the air, bottles and plates cascaded onto the carpet. Two huge chandeliers plunged to the floor, each smashing into a thousand pieces. Human bodies slammed together. A man somersaultd through the air and landed on a metal post, the pole skewering him. Blood spewed into the air.
The crash of the breaking glass. Metal grinding against metal.
A massive rumble. The dome shuddered. The vast banqueting suite looked as though it had been filmed and the celluloid strip had caught, juddering, in an old-fashioned movie projector.
E-Force are quickly alerted when an anomaly is picked up by their network of satellites, linked to the world’s only quantum computer, which monitor the earth for signs of abnormal events. They soon discover that something has badly damaged the Neptune Hotel and dispatch a rescue effort, sending one of their cutting edge jets and submarines for Fiji.
Amidst political and military tension between China and the United States, a snap decision by an E-Force team member to cut through prohibited Chinese air space causes E-force major complications of their own.
Reading on, a bigger threat emerges; not just a threat to those trapped in the Neptune Hotel and to E-Force but one which is global in scale.
Aftershock takes readers to locations around the world, including Paraguay, Sydney, the ocean floor off Fiji, and the Gobi desert in China.
A great novel and one I could easily imagine as a great blockbuster movie. Keep an eye out for the next E-Force novel, Nano.
More on Michael White and his fiction can be found at www.michaelwhite.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review