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There are a few signs in Steve Pieczenik’s new thriller, State of Emergency, that its author used to be a high-level State Department policy wonk. First, there’s the dedication to his kids: “Each generation must redefine and reconstruct its own form of democracy.” Geez, Dad, I hate it when you gush like that.

But especially, there are big scenes like the one where a cabal of western politicos plot their states’ secession from the U.S., kicking off the Second Civil War. Gripes Gov. Tom Snoddy about some onerous new federal dictate, “My welfare costs increase three to four hundred percent, my police force is cut in half. Crime rises, and the citizens correctly scream….So what do I have left?” Co-conspiring State Sen. Don Tallent replies feelingly, “To increase taxes at a time when your state is bleeding.” The next thing you know, all hell breaks loose. Just like the scheming and havoc in Julius Caesar—except for that stuff about taxes and welfare cuts.

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Pieczenik does pick up the pace a bit once the bullets start to fly. But as he informs readers in his preface, thrills are not really at the top of the agenda for this former Reagan/Bush crisis manager. Pieczenik measures success by his novels’ prognosticatory powers: He claims that his first novel, 1982’s The Mind Palace, foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ahead of events. Next, Blood Heat predicted the coming threat of biological weapons, and Pax Pacifica saw the rise of China as a dangerous 21st-century superpower from a long way off.

State of Emergency’s premise is that, owing to emerging forces ranging from NAFTA to the Internet, the bonds that have held the U.S. together for two centuries are soon to snap. “California now has more in common with Canada and Mexico than it does with Vermont and New Hampshire,” says Pieczenik. And he points to hackle-raising issues like water rights and federal seizures of land for new national parks to predict that the western states will bolt first.

So are we actually looking at a new civil war in the near future? “Uh-huh,” Pieczenik readily affirms—then he backs off a bit. “We don’t yet know whether or not it will be violent,” he says. “That’ll depend on what happens when state and federal troops meet across a border for the first time.”

—John DeVault