Tag Archives: Larry Bond

Day of Wrath, Larry Bond

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.

The Enemy Within, Larry Bond

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. ]