Reviewed: November 1, 2007
By: Greg Bear
Publisher: Vanguard Press
326 pages, $29.95
The future isn’t what it used to be. Or perhaps it’s just that writing about the future isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe it’s just that science fiction writers like to stretch their imaginations in different directions from time to time. Lately, there’s been a strong tendency for writers to ground their work in the near future, and to wonder just what sorts of messes we might shortly be getting ourselves into.
Greg Bear, for instance, has written has as much space based material as anyone I know, and does a good job at that. He’s destroyed the world as we know it a couple of times. He’s extended Asimov’s classic Foundation saga. He’s written into the far future and wondered what things might be like centuries from now.
This book isn’t like that. Set just a decade or so in the future, if that, this book extrapolates what the world might have become like if 9/11 had really changed the world instead of just giving armchair warrior wannabes a chance to play the same old games for new reasons.
In Bear’s future 9/11 was followed sometime later by another code named terrorist disaster, something called 10-4. Logic suggests that whatever this was - it involved a large ferry, at any rate - took place on October 4 of whatever year, and it scrambled whatever brains were left in the American intelligence community at that time.
We enter the story with an embattled FBI trying to preserve its own existence and hot on the trail of a homegrown career terrorist called the Patriarch, who has a mission to wipe out all the mongrel races in the world and make it safe for god-fearing people. He’s raised a family (with several wives) trained to carry out his apocalyptic vision and usher in a new age.
He’s under observation by Special Agent Griffin, who has been on his trail for years, but just when the good guys think that have him cold, it all falls apart and nothing is what it seemed to be.
Finding a solution to this nebulous threat is the work of new agents William Griffin, Fouad Al-Husam, and Jane Rowland, as well as more seasoned veterans like William’s father and Rebecca Rose. After the fiasco at the Washington State farm every one seems to be fixated on a possible anthrax threat and when no traces of that are found most of members of the team that worked that case are dispersed and no one seems to notice any of the odd symptoms that keep popping up around the people who were most exposed to the blast force when the barn blew up.
They keep looking elsewhere, just as it was planned they should by the former agent whose real plan for the world is much worse than anything anyone had imagined. He’s not interested in killing, particularly. The man with one green eye and one blue one just wants to make the world a more peaceful place and has a unique notion about how to end the old feuds that make the planet a powder keg so much of the time.
The author is a master of misdirection and lays down plots that might lead in a number of different directions, but which obscure the real design of the brain behind it all.
The investigation is hampered at all levels by the fact that the Agency itself is under investigation and is perhaps on its last legs. In this future there are so many layers of intelligence and black ops that it’s hard to imagine any one of these agencies ever getting a complete picture of what’s going, or sharing it with enough people for anything useful to be done with the information.
Hmmm. After reading some of the Congressional Investigation into the 9/11 attack, maybe that’s not so far fetched after all.
Bear has won a Hugo Award and three Nebulas for his work, along with a share of a Heinlein Award. He’s an author with a good track record and this mixed genre excursion into a near and dubious future is worth a look.