Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Devil's Details

I just read a good book.

Author Chris Fox sent me (and other small bloggers, too. But really, I'm "obscure?" Just because nobody's heard of me ...) his book The Devil's Halo to review. I occasionally write on issues worrying about Europe as a potential threat with a talent for war, so I guess he figured I would be in the right frame of mind to appreciate the plot. I noted the receipt back here.

Sadly for Chris, I have little time to read books these days. But I did bump it to the head of my three-dozen books waiting to be read. I finished it a few weeks ago and let it kind of settle before I commented on it.

First of all, let me say that I liked the book. Fox is a good writer and it is a polished read. This is no weak compliment. Having read thrillers by others that just fell flat--and even an early very clunky book by an author I like which was clearly published after his success--this is something I value and recognize.

I want to start this way because I want to complain a bit about it and then I'll backtrack a bit on my main complaint out of a sense of humility.

What bothered me when I started reading the book was that Weston's daughter was in danger way too much. Yes, Weston started out with a case of industrial espionage he thought should pose no real danger to his daughter. And yes, the reason for her being at risk made sense in the context of the story. But maybe being a dad made me just too uneasy about the danger level to a little girl.

That said, Fox wrote a good story about a commercial spy put in over his head and trying to cope with new lethal dangers with existing skills designed for much less danger. He had to be saved by others while he ramped up his game to cope. And in time Weston was part of the game and giving better than he got from ruthless enemies.

And really, the explanation for the success of East German women shot-putters in the Cold War era Olympics was amusing (And frightening in the power of an authoritarian state if true! I hope it was just a joke.).

I also liked the main tools used for the espionage that he and his wife used--tiny flying drones that slipped in like insects. That was pretty cool. We can see the value in war with larger ones (getting smaller and smaller to be used at lower levels) and so this is no large leap.

I also really liked the quotes from historic figures that Fox sprinkled through some of the chapter headings that supported the story line. This is something I used in a manuscript I came darn close to selling some years ago to set tone and something I'm using in another dormant manuscript I will eventually get to if I ever retire. So I'm biased in liking that mixing of history to support a new future that adds to the reality of the story.

Plus, the French were the bad guys in Fox's story. So realism doesn't suffer there!

But what really bugged me was the scenario with which France planned to gain world dominance. It was essentially Pearl Harbor without the subsequent offensive into the south Pacific and East Indies. France planned a strike to hit us hard yet assumed that the initial easy hit would be enough and we'd just surrender to let a French-led EU take over leadership of the world. My bias against the French government does not allow even me to assume such short-sighted strategic thinking.

Oh, and I would have lopped off the whole last "One Year Later" section on how poverty made everyone more caring and compassionate about their fellow man. That really lost me.

And though I think the scenario is unrealistic (though still a great story), let me pull back on my criticism by being a bit humble. I can't predict the future (what the Hell, you say!). When world war can break out over some damn fool thing in the Balkans, all I can say for sure is that if a major war breaks out in Europe it will be over something we can't even imagine today. Only in retrospect will it make sense. It may not be a GPS strike but if war happens we will be surprised at what triggers European war.

A Russian general told the hero of the book, Terry Weston, that he was mistaken to think of Europeans as pacifists. Said the Russian to Weston, referring to Americans:

Sixty years. And you are the experts, yes? In the United States, your generation knows the Europeans only as pacifists and scolds. We have known them for much longer. We knew the French when we were forced to burn half of Moscon wo throw Napoleon's army back. We knew the peace-loving Germans when they burned Moscow once again. When Europeans feel tribal urges, Mr. Weston, it is always Moscow that is set on fire.

That quote kind of sums up my feelings. I don't want to turn our backs on Europe in frustration at their current pacifism. Europeans have waged war brutally and effectively for hundreds of years and I do not think that war and even fascism are bred out of them. We need to keep an eye on them if for no other reason. We've struggled for a hundred years to keep a single power from controlling the European continent and I don't think we should abandon that goal now just because the EU looks like a bunch of weenies.

Sometimes I think we should be grateful the Europeans are pacifists. We may not have a lot of help in fighting now, but at least we don't have to fight against Europeans. We must struggle to keep Europe friendly. We have friends in Europe--even in France--and we should not walk away from them and risk those opposed to us entrenching themselves in a pseudo-Soviet union of European states.

And I don't assume Moscow is the only city that could burn if the Europeans decide to brush up on their talent for war.

So go read The Devil's Halo. It is a good story and hopefully it stays in the fiction section. A civil war in the West given the forces arrayed against us would be devastating, and The Devil's Halo is a good reminder of this peril. Let's hang together, guys.

And thanks for the book, Chris.