World of Trouble, by Ben H. Winters, is a sad and beautiful story about a good man trying to live a decent life a few days before the world is due to be destroyed. Literally destroyed. An asteroid is heading straight for the Earth, and the human race and other higher life are going to be wiped out in about a week.
The people of the Earth have known the asteroid is coming for two years, and have had that time to try to deal with the imminent death of everything. World of Trouble is the third and final book of a trilogy. The first two volumes, The Last Policeman, and Countdown City are among the best books I’ve read recently, and World of Trouble lives up to that standard.
Like the other two books of the series, World of Trouble is told in the first person by Hank Palace, a police detective from a small city in New Hampshire. Like the other two books, Palace in World of Trouble has a mystery to solve.
Palace is a natural-born detective and conscientious public servant. He’s articulate and fair. He’s rather humorless, but that’s not a flaw in a cop. He’s the introspective son of a couple of humanities professors, and that shows in his writing style and thought processes. He’s a likable protagonist to spend time with, and a true hero, even though he does bad things. Palace is a fundamentally decent and courageous person in a world going insane.
The first volume of the trilogy, The Last Policeman, takes place six months before the predicted end of the world. Everybody knows when the asteroid is predicted to hit — down to the minute — and where.
In the course of investigating the mysteries in the three books, Palace explores New Hampshire and travels on foot and bicycle to Ohio. The US government reverts briefly to a police state to keep order, and then evaporates. Local governments hang on longer, then they unravel as well. Civilization itself is coming apart, as the world rolls on knowing the precise minute it will be destroyed.
People react to threat of imminent destruction in all kinds of ways. Some lose themselves in drugs and orgies. Others commit murder. Some abandon their families to run off to Tahiti. Some steal. Others try to continue with normal life as best as they can, going to work and even sending kids to school. We see a Utopian commune at a university that will (if the dire predictions work out) never have a chance to fall apart, as Utopian communes inevitably do given time. Some members of that commune spend their nights and days watching movies. Others just read, eating in the library and relieving themselves into deskside containers so they don’t have to spend an unnecessary minute away from their books.
Palace is in the group of people trying to hang onto normal life. He’s an apprentice detective, but, if the world ends as predicted, he will never get a chance to master his trade. The criminals he apprehends will never be brought to justice. Soon enough, the US government disbands his police department and Palace is no longer a cop, but he’s still a detective.
And this is as far as I’m going to go without dropping big spoilers. More after the cut.