Imagine every computer suddenly dying. No tablets, no cellphones, no ATMs. Most cars and planes are suddenly out of commission. All systems that rely on computers – including utilities – grind to a halt. This is the premise of Eric Walters’ The Rule of Three. In this unique twist on the post-apocalyptic dystopian narrative, the world is plunged into an almost feudal existence, with citizens gathering resources and fortifying their neighbourhoods to survive attacks from others.
The story unfolds through the eyes of Adam Daley, a 16-year-old idealist and budding pilot whose mother is a police chief and whose father is a pilot for a commercial airline. After the sudden shutdown, it doesn’t take long for the rule of three – “you can go without air for three minutes, without water for three days, and without food for three weeks” – to kick in, and while Adam’s neighbourhood bands together under the guidance of Herb, a mysterious former embassy worker, food, potable water, and other resources rapidly dwindle. Adam hatches a plan to feed and protect the community. A local farmer is tapped to provide equipment and seed, lawns are dug up to grow food, walls are built around the neighbourhood, and police are enlisted to keep watch for potential invaders.
All the hallmarks of a good Walters book are here: the teenage perspective is spot on, the male hero rises to the challenges thrown his way, the pace is quick but realistic, danger and adventure are around every corner. The main drawback is an ambiguity of place. Landmarks in Adam’s suburban neighbourhood are recognizable as belonging to Mississauga, Ontario, but there are also references to American cities, gas is measured in gallons, and Herb sounds like a CIA operative.
The book also leaves a handful of questions unanswered: Will Adam’s dad make it home from Chicago? What exactly caused the computers to fail? And will things ever return to normal? Presumably, the answers will be revealed in the sequel, set up rather conveniently at this novel’s close. Given Walters’ prolific output, readers likely won’t have long to wait for their curiosity to be satisfied.