Rule of Capture: Inside the martial law tribunals that will come when climate deniers become climate looters and start rendering environmentalists for offshore torture

In 2017, science fiction author Christopher Brown burst on the scene with Tropic of Kansas, an apocalyptic pageturner about martial law in climate-wracked America; now, with his second novel, Rule of Capture, Brown turns everything up to 11 in a militarized, oil-saturated, uninhabitable Texas where private mercs, good ole boys, and climate looters have plans to deliver a stolen election to a hyper-authoritarian president.

Donny Kimoe is a lawyer who switched sides: once, he was the kind of federal prosecutor who rated a high-level security clearance, now he's a court-appointed defense attorney for the kinds of secret military tribunals where everyone in the room needs clearance (and where the prosecution still redacts most of the state's evidence from both the defense attorney and the judge<). He's just caught a hell of a case: Xelina Rocafuerte is an activist filmmaker who documents the actions of the Rovers, activists who want to abolish borders and restore wildlife habitats (this latter is particularly urgent now that the midwest has turned into a dustbowl, sending waves of refugees into Texas, which sealed its borders just in time to be smitted by waves of heavy weather that renders most of Houston and its environs permanently uninhabitable, thanks to the uncontrolled oil ruptures).

Xelina Rocafuerte is being charged as a terrorist, facing denaturalization and deportation to an offshore facility for stateless former Americans so terrifying that even its name is a secret. This isn't just the state stomping some young, racialized troublemaker, though: as Donny discovers, Xelina documented a political assassination, in which a paramilitary death squad brutally murdered an opposition leader, one of the people leading the charge to prevent the Texas governor from throwing the election and handing over the state's electoral college votes to the hyperauthoritarian incumbent. If Xelina's footage gets out, it could change the presidency, ending the kind of prosecution she's found herself in, but Donny can't get her footage out until he wins her case.

Brown is a Texas lawyer whose attention to legal verisimilitude pays of in spades, a kind of legal-realism that feels terrifyingly plausible as he lays out the way that a nasty, smart Attorney General could conspire with an authoritarian president to create the kind of martial law that even Federal judges will permit.

Against that grimdark law business: a kind of madcap Texas Gothic dark comedy, as the Houston good ole boy network is displayed like a courtroom scene in an unpublished Hunter S Thompson novel.

And shot through it all, a serious, philosophical meditation on the nature of private land, conquest, and justice, and the blood-soaked history of America, a land so saturated in the blood of the conquered and enslaved that it lurks beneath the soil, like oil, waiting to bubble up the minute the ground is broken.

Climate denial has always been a grift. Not only did Exxon know in the 1970s, but every oilman who ever listened to a soil engineer when it came to figuring out where to dig and then denied the same science when it came to the consequences of burning that oil was either bullshitting himself, or the rest of us, or both. Climate denial is just a prelude to disaster capitalism, when, in the chaos of climate catastrophe, the wealthy seize what little they don't already own, take the high ground and make ready to breed their children by harrier jet flights over the rising, polluted seas.

Rule of Capture is the first volume of a trilogy. It moves, rocketing along at a ferocious pace — and then it lingers, haunting you with its claustrophobic gallows/courtroom humor and fierce defiance.

Rule of Capture [Christopher Brown/Harpercollins]