Warner Books, 1996, 483 pages, C$27.95 hc, ISBN 0-446-51676-7
Fortress America is under siege: Everywhere, rebellious Americans are challenging the authority of the federal government. Bombs are exploding, the FBI is feverishly investigating, the public is scared…
Fiction or Fact? In recent years, America has finally wizened up to the fact that terrorism isn’t something that only happened to Others. The danger is clear and might even be contained Within…
Larry Bond is perhaps better known as the phantom co-author of Red Storm Rising, the gigantic WWIII superthriller by Tom Clancy. But Bond has since acquired a reputation by writing (along with phantom collaborator Patrick Larkins) tense, thick, very satisfying technothrillers.
The first, Red Phoenix, dealt with a second Korean War. Vortex with a South African crisis. Cauldron with a renewed threat by a France/Germany union. All three were complex 500+ pages, tightly-typeset epics, with a huge cast of characters and multiple twists all the way.
The Enemy Within takes a more intimate view: Mainly dealing with a Special Operations officer named Peter Thorn, it’s both less complex and more formulaic than his previous effort.
It’s also less satisfying, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The premise is as simple as it is disturbing: In an Iran shaken by a power shift, a general plans to distract the USA’s attention by a series of carefully-planned terrorist acts on America’s soil. It’s up to Thorn to unravel the Why of these acts, who all look like they’re coming from extreme elements in the Unites States themselves.
Bond is still in top-flight form when he’s dealing with machinery, weapons and weapons-effects. His mastery of the clinical, cold omniscient POV is nearly absolute: His prose neatly dissects the effects of three pounds of C4 explosive placed in the gas tank of a 18 wheeler.
But when dealing with personalities, Bond still have lessons to learn. This isn’t as much a criticism of Bond as the genre itself: Technothrillers, much like SF, is a literature of gadgets and ideas. The Plot is King.
In Bond’s previous effort, the love story was a carefully hidden subplot that was overwhelmed by the other events. Whatever happened, the love story was nice and everything, but it wasn’t why we read the book, right?
In The Enemy Within, the Love Story is a major part of the story, as is the Revenge Story, the Betrayal Story and the Gonna Get’em Story. But they’re all centred on the Hero, contrarily to his other books where these Stories were dispersed on multiple subplots.
A much more personal book, but also one that ultimately disappoints slightly. The Heroine gets in trouble, the Hero goes to the Villain for Revenge. yawn. We’ve seen this before, I believe?
Still, techno-nerds like myself will delight in the meticulous technical details and the apocalyptic feel of a total telephone shutdown over the American Midwest. Internauts will find no faults in Bond’s use of the Net. The plot unfolds at a carefully controlled -if sometimes unequal- pace.
But -in addition to the restricted focus- Bond manages to have a disappointing conclusion that looks quite a bit forced and also trivialises what had earlier seemed as a Big Problem.
Sad, really. Bond had accustomed us to excellent thrillers, and he only delivers a better-than-average effort. He’s still on my must-buy list, with the hope that his next effort will be better.
In the meantime, Fortress America will read about right-wing extremists, I guess…
[September 1996 Footnote: Believers in synchronicity might want to read Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders for a subplot that echoes eerily of The Enemy Within, down to the Iranian villains using the Net for their dastardly devious acts of terrorism… and a climax that reminds me of Bond’s short story in David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible. ]