Warner Books, 1998, 481 pages, C$30.00 hc, ISBN 0-446-51677-5
Almost every avid reader has a “buy-on-sight” list of especially meritorious authors whose books are of such invariable good quality that they warrant the 35$ gamble of a brand-new hardcover. Mine is composed of people like Tom Clancy, Greg Egan, Bruce Sterling, John Varley, Neal Stephenson… all of which can be depended upon for conceptually solid, physically thick pieces of entertainment.
Larry Bond holds the distinction of having been taken off my “buy-on-sight” author list after his 1996 book The Enemy Within. His first three books -four if you include his WW3 super-thriller collaboration with Tom Clancy, Red Storm Rising– were grand spectacles of future war, hugely complex tales of nations run amok and superb set-pieces played upon technical, political and military battlefields. Red Phoenix, Vortex and Cauldron were deeply impressive techno-thrillers, brimming with unexpected rewards at more than 500 pages each. Cauldron was bought-on-sight.
So was The Enemy Within. But upon reading this limp thriller devoid of the sweeping scope of his earlier books, I was not tempted by the sequel, Day of Wrath. Two years later, Day of Wrath is available at dirt-cheap prices in used bookstores, and that’s where Larry Bond and I meet again.
After reading his latest effort, Larry Bond stays off my A-list.
The problem is the same than with The Enemy Within: Is that it? Bond had proven his ability to send thousands of men in mega-battles, moving pieces off gigantic chessboards, meticulously describing capacities and weaknesses of high-tech hardware and in seamlessly integrating multiple protagonists.
Nothing of that sort in his “thriller” phase. Both The Enemy Within and Day of Wrath concentrate on a couple of protagonists: Colonel Peter Thorn and Agents Helen Gray. And despite the focus, these two characters combined can’t equal the interest of any of the bit-players in Bond’s previous novels.
Day of Wrath is bland. Predictable. Implausible. Déjà-vu. Limp. Nothing special. Once again, a gna-ha-ha grandmaster of evil hates the Americans for some trivial childhood trauma and badly wants to attack the United States. Once again, his diabolic plans are foiled by Thorn and Grey. Nothing we haven’t seen before, even in the details.
To be fair, Day of Wrath isn’t all that badly written in the confines of the thriller genre. The novel is obviously padded -did we have to frolic across most of Europe?- but I guess that intentionally done in an effort to satisfy beach readers. At least there is a heightening of tension by the end of the book -cruise missiles aimed at Washington are good at that-, though you’ll have to wade through a lot of Commando-type silliness (Two humans! Against a compound filled with world-class terrorists!) in order to get to this point.
But even an okay thriller doesn’t begin to match the level of Bond’s earlier super-thrillers. Reading the cover blurbs for the paperback edition of Day of Wrath -and assorted comments from Amazon.com customers-, I’m amazed at how some readers seem to think that Bond has “matured out of the technothriller” genre, as if he did better stuff now than before.
Let me set those fools straight: Bond has declined. He isn’t as much fun to read as he was before. It’s not only the stories themselves, but also the details, the plotting, the characters that are worse than before. It’s not as if we could blame a lack of time; he’s still publishing at two-years intervals. It’s not as if we could blame publishing pressures: Stephen Coonts and James H. Cobb are still publishing decent future-war novels.
It’s almost as if we have to blame Larry Bond. (“Your name is Bond, *Larry* Bond”.) Well so be it; he stays off my buy-on-sight list.