Dickerson’s (Mature Single Man’s Cookbook, 2014, etc.) novella looks at how vulnerable the United States’ power grid might be to outside attack.
The tale starts with two shadowy figures in a consulate in San Francisco, discussing the possibility of bringing down the nation’s electrical systems. One is the consulate’s chief of station, whom readers come to know by his code name, “Francis,” and the other, code-named “Randy,” is the “director of the economics bureau,” who’s in town under the cover of delivering a lecture on a technical paper. Their country of origin is only referred to as “the motherland.” They team up with a student, known as Cal, working toward his doctorate in electrical engineering, who’s apparently the brains behind the grid-crashing technology. As they implement their plan, readers get glimpses of the reaction at NORAD and of a few other characters, including the NORAD commander in chief and a colonel involved in surveillance, around the United States and Canada. This book’s subject couldn’t be more timely considering the fear of terrorist attacks around the world. Dickerson certainly has an impressive resume in his chosen subject, as he taught electrical engineering for a combined 13 years at the University of Southern California and California Polytechnic State University and spent considerable time in the energy industry. However, he doesn’t spend enough time with his characters here to engage readers. Most chapters are just a couple of pages long, comprised of either flat exposition or dialogue in which it’s hard to tell who’s speaking. Readers don’t get any background information on “Randy,” “Francis,” or “Cal”—not even their real names—and after they implement their plan, they drop out of sight until the end of the book. The story also doesn’t work well as a parable, as all the characters seem to handle the crisis fairly well and without too much trouble.
An unmemorable thriller whose cautionary message never really hits home.