Forbidden Summit, Payne Harrison

Berkley, 1997, 340 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-425-16214-1

Open letter to Payne Harrison:

Dear Mr. Harrison,

It is with considerable dismay that I write you about your latest novel, Forbidden Summit. For reasons which shall be exposed at length below, I find it regrettable to contemplate the possibility that one of the best techno-thriller writers in recent memory has fallen prey to disillusions so laughably flawed that he must be pitied, not scorned.

I really loved your first two books. Storming Intrepid was a tremendously exciting novel of cold war conflict, adroitly mixing limpid writing with an exceptionally thrilling plot of warfare in near space. I bought it twice: In paperback, and then in hardcover. Thunder of Erebus was no slouch either. You managed to bring techno-thrillers to a fresh new location -Antarctica- and the story contained far too many good scenes to enumerate. It was great.

I was slightly disappointed by Black Cipher, though. Even though the field of cryptology is intriguing like few else, your narrative talents had slipped a notch, and this rather simple tale of a lone cryptologist against a conspiracy of highly-placed officials… was satisfying without being spectacular.

Still, when I heard that a new Payne Harrison book was in bookstores, I rushed to the shelves, only to be surprised by the fact that your new book was a paperback original. When dealing with an established author, this is usually a sign of an inferior work. Puzzled, I read the synopsis and understood.

“A powerfully convincing novel of the ultimate government secret”… “Four unidentified aircrafts are tracked on a controlled descent over North America.”… “The official response -or lack of it- is puzzling.” “A desolate summit on a desert mesa. There, far from public eyes, the truth is waiting…” A glimpse through the afterword confirmed my doubts.

I quietly placed the book back on the shelf. Is that what it had come to? One excellent author reduced to pandering to the wide-eyes neurotic true X-Files believers?

Having thus resolved not to buy Forbidden Summit, I was ironically pleased to unwrap the book at our Christmas office party; my reputation as a voracious reader had netted me two books, including yours. So I would be able, after all, to actually have an informed opinion on your latest novel.

So I read and find myself unpleasantly vindicated. The shocking thing is not as much the fact that you do believe in this alien stuff -all pretences of harmless fiction are erased by your afterword- as how most of your writing skills seems to have gone to waste since Thunder of Erebus.

I’ll be blunt: The pitifulness of your cardboard characters is only surpassed by the shallowness of your plotting. Old flashes of the Payne Harrison of old still resonate at odd moments: Good technical descriptions, a few interesting scenes. But beyond that, it is not an impression of dislike that one gets of Forbidden Summit. It is one of pity, of shameful embarrassment at the fall of a once-promising writer. Your book is boring, misogynist, clumsy, inconsistent with reality and sadly paranoid. It reads like something you threw up after watching INDEPENDENCE DAY once too many.

In a way, you are your own best advertisement for your theories of alien conspiracies. Bring back the original Harrison, you alien bastards!

In the meantime, your pathetic belief in alien conspiracies are not only miserable in their own right, but they are an insult to the millions of soldiers, officers, scientists, engineers and politicians whose virtues you so espoused and profited from in your previous novels.

And if only for that, you should not be allowed to publish another novel.

With sincere wishes for an improvement in your mental health,

An ex-fan, Christian Sauvé.

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