Here is an interesting question: Can you raise serious issues or ideas in a paperback thriller? Now I am not talking about a literary novel that uses aspects of the thriller genre. I know books that often get classified as genre fiction deal with serious ideas. No, I am more interested in whether the kind of book you might take to the beach or read on the commute to work can contain some serious ideas underneath the action driven plot. If you read a Tom Clancy type novel, for example, do you think about the wider political implications?
What motivates these musings? I recently finished reading The Devil’s Halo by Chris Fox and it raised this question in my mind.
The plot is quite complex but let me sketch it out briefly. In 2010 tensions between Europe and America are at an all time high. NATO is defunct and Germany is bankrupt. A larger European Union led by France and joined by Russia seeks to challenge US dominance. Given the continued American military, economic, and cultural dominance Europe decides to draw the line at space. The US, seeking to protect itself from a dangerous world, is working on a space shield which will ensure its military power for years to come.
Terry Weston, an expert in industrial espionage in contract with the CIA, is thrust into this dicey situation when a blockbuster Hollywood movie is stolen prior to its planned worldwide simultaneous release. It seems the same technology that was thought to protect this military action flick is used by the US Military. Weston succeeds in retrieving the film, but in the process stumbles on to a plot of epic proportions. Soon Weston and his wife, a highly trained physicist, are pulled into a dangerous race to prevent a technological Pearl Harbor.
The book is basically a high tech spy thriller, and a rollicking fun one at that, but it raises some serious issues along the way. There are basically two levels to the book. On one level is the highly entertaining action/espionage plot and on another is the underlying political tensions which raise very real issues. I am not an expert on the technology and spy craft involved, but I feel confident in asserting that much of the action side of the plot is . . . hyperbolic shall we say.
Mrs. Weston is not only a capable espionage partner to her husband, but she is also a brainiac physicist whose father owns a powerful space contracting company. Oh, and she also appeared in Playboy. This power couple steals a space shuttle and actually takes it out of earth’s atmosphere before landing safely in Iceland! We expect these type of works to stretch reality in order to create an exciting and action packed adventure.
But there are some serious question underlying this techno thriller. One is just how dangerous is the escalating tension between Europe and America? Conservatives have been worried for a number of years that Europe would set itself up as a counter-weight to American influence. This has come true on a smaller scale with the war in Iraq. France and Germany blocked any attempt by the US to gain United Nations approval for taking action against Iraq. There are now indications that Russia might have been assisting Saddam in the early stages of the invasion.
Fox has this tension and rivalry leading to actual military conflict. Is this a real concern? Robert Kagan has succinctly outlined the differences in perspective, but thinks these are natural outcomes of their respective histories. Is this something that can be managed with diplomacy or are these two powers headed for direct conflict? It is not my intention to attempt to settle this question here, but it is interesting that this very real foreign policy question underlies The Devil’s Halo.
Fox also adds a twist at the end that also offers some food for thought. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but some disastrous events seem to have positive repercussions. Fox seems to me making the obvious point that the frantic pace of technological development hasn’t been an unmitigated good. Fox ends the book with an interesting perspective, one that contemplates a slowing down of our furtive lives and a increased focus on our families and communities. You might even say the ending is “crunchy.”
The Devil’s Halo is an entertaining and suspenseful techno thriller. If you enjoy the intersection of technology, politics, and international relations – or if you just enjoy action packed fanciful portrayal’s of international intrigue – you will enjoy Halo.
But I wonder home many people will think about the geopolitical realities and tensions that underlie the story. So let me repeat the question: Can paperback thrillers make you think about more serious issues? What do the readers say? If you have read the book, what was your impression of the underlying political realities raised? Did you think about them or did you just enjoy the plot? If you have an opinion drop a comment below.