Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux on January 21, 2014
One shocking afternoon, computers around the globe shut down in a viral catastrophe. At sixteen-year-old Adam Daley’s high school, the problem first seems to be a typical electrical outage, until students discover that cell phones are down, municipal utilities are failing, and a few computer-free cars like Adam’s are the only vehicles that function. Driving home, Adam encounters a storm tide of anger and fear as the region becomes paralyzed. Soon—as resources dwindle, crises mount, and chaos descends—he will see his suburban neighborhood band together for protection. And Adam will understand that having a police captain for a mother and a retired government spy living next door are not just the facts of his life but the keys to his survival, in The Rule of Three by Eric Walters.
One of my favorite things about the post-apocalyptic genre is learning about the events that caused the apocalypse. That never happens in The Rule of Three. Of course, there are valid reasons why we may never receive that information. (Call me a greedy reader for wanting it anyway.) In The Rule of Three, some unknown catastrophe causes all computers and electronic equipment to shut down. This affects expected devices like cell phones and water pumps, but also modern cars that rely on computers to operate. This is a time when you might be grateful for the heap o’ junk in your driveway, rather than the shiny new cars everyone else is driving.
Adam is having a normal day at school when the lights suddenly go out. Then the students realize that their phones don’t work. Class is dismissed early, but there’s one problem – cars won’t operate, so students can’t get home. Adam’s old car works, however, and he’s able to get home, driving past many people who are stranded when their cars suddenly stopped working.
My main problem with this story is how easily Adam and his family and friends have it, relative to everyone else. He’s got one of the few working cars. He’s a (16 year old!!!!) pilot with an ultralight plane that flies without the use of computers. His mother is the town police captain, so he has access to information that few people have. His mysterious neighbor is a former CIA operative who is able to predict with startling accuracy exactly how events will unfold following the catastrophe, so that Adam and co. are able to prepare. His kinda/sorta girlfriend lives on a farm with a seemingly endless supply of food and water, something that no one else has. So, the short story is – if you’re in with Adam, you’re good. If not, your’re screwed.
Since all of the immediate potential crises that one would face in this situation are so quickly addressed and resolved for Adam and his friends (food, water, security, medical care, access to information, and transportation), the author chooses to focus instead on how society might break down. Resources are at a premium, and since they’re all seemingly possessed by Adam’s friends, they are placed in a situation of both extreme power and extreme vulnerability. They must decide whether and how to share their resources with others outside their circle while protecting the resources for themselves. I hope we never have to find out whether The Rule of Three presents an accurate depiction of how society would break down following an apocalypse, but it seemed realistic enough. On the other hand, the ease and speed with which Adam and his friends adapted to the situation was hard to swallow.