I spent a good chunk of the weekend feeling uneasy. I blame the novel I was reading.
Never, the new book from Ken Follett is a topical modern-day thriller. Follet made his reputation with thrillers, then expanded into historical blockbusters, and it is nice to see he hasn’t lost his touch.
When you think of Ken Follet you think of an author looking at times past, especially wars past, and taking you there in elaborate detail. Never though is about the next war.
Or maybe the one that is on right now between Russia and Ukraine. Even though this novel is about a war with China, there are eerie similarities. When Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on alert over the weekend, I thought I should write this review and raced to finish the book, even though the library wasn’t yet demanding it back.
Never is definitely a story of chilling possibilities and the ramifications of chaos theory. That butterfly flapping its wings, in this case a terrorist attack killing one American soldier, spirals out of control to put the planet on the brink of nuclear war. The message is clear. Well-being people make small, logical-to-them decisions. But the actions they take inspire a reaction, which requires a response and the situation escalates.
There is a school of thought that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week was inevitable given Vladimir Putin’s imperial aspirations. A competing view would be that Putin was backed into a corner by the United States and its allies, to the point where he had no choice but to invade. The truth may lie somewhere in between. Politicians in democracies probably don’t grasp the problems of ditators – and vice versa.
Ken Follett takes us into the highest strategy meetings on all sides in this novel. He tries to show the humanity (and insecurities) of those who will make the decision on whether to start a nuclear war. A shorter novel would have been a quicker read (and I did find the 800 pages a bit long), but the human sub-plots give a better flavor of what world leaders really do face.
After the world witnessed the devastation of American nuclear bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, there was a general consensus that such weapons are too fearful to ever be used again. Despite that, some countries have built considerable nuclear stockpiles. And where there are weapons stockpiles, there is alway the temptation to use them.
When nukes are considered just another tool to intimidate your opponents, someone at some point is going to use them. It just seems inevitable. That the results could be devastating for the world is a minor issue when you are fighting for your political life, as many of the characters in Follett’s story are doing.
Never is a novel of today, or perhaps next week. Even putting the rhetoric aside, the world has changed with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. No-one is quite sure what will happen next.
As you read Never, you will find yourself feeling the same way, while at teh same time being increasingly worried for all our futures.