Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Devil's Halo, by Chris Fox -- Book Review

By Aussiegirl

"The Devil's Halo"

Given the news since 9/11, any book which starts out with the words -- "If only Jacques Chirac had put a sock in it that day" -- is bound to get the reader to start turning pages. From this boffo opening line, author Chris Fox takes the reader on a dizzying, fast-paced romp through a not-too-distant future in which France and Russia, along with a new European Union, join forces to once and for all end what they see as odious American hegemony. Embroiled in all of this international
skullduggery is the hero, corporate spy turned CIA agent, Terry Weston, his brilliant computer genius wife, Maria, and their young daughter Ariana.

It's not an overstatement to say that this is a heart-stopping, page-turning tour de force that will have you exclaiming "oh, no!" on more than one occasion. The French and Russians have figured out a doomsday weapon that will render most of America's military useless and return the United States to a pre-computer time. Only Weston and his wife can ferret out the plot and attempt to prevent the looming catastrophe.

What takes this novel beyond the level of the ordinary thriller is Fox's very accurate and uncanny ability to project not only current Technology into a near future where the world we see is recognizable yet just a bit beyond our present capabilities, but more importantly he has zeroed in on the cultural and political climate to project plausible and disquieting scenarios. To put it simply -- Fox has observed the world as it is, and extrapolated out the logical outcomes.

France, Russia and Europe are still gripped with an almost fanatical hatred and resentment of all things American. Germany has been rendered useless, and France and Russia have joined forces to once and for all end American supremacy -- and their chosen target is space.

Fox correctly points out the factors at play -- European Amero-phobia, American vaccilation and reluctance to take muscular action, bureaucratic paralysis, political cowardice and media bias feature prominently in this tale of a recognizable future. The world that Fox paints looks familiar because it is simply the world we live in today a few years from now.

Fox is right to point out that, unchecked, the current climate of America-bashing is bound to lead to some scenario, if not exactly like this one in the whiz-bang technological details, then one very similar in the outcome. That is, if unchecked, the virulent anti-Americanism is going to end up in a scenario that will be very bad for the world, and very bad for America.

I'll admit that I'm not even a sometime consumer of political spy thrillers, but this one kept my attention, and I was impressed with the level of research evident in the book. Fox is obviously someone who has traveled and read widely, and there are many details in the book which will bring a smile of recognition to the reader's face. The duplicitous and egostical news anchor of the most popular TV program, 24/7 -- a witty take-off on "60 Minutes" -- a future where "60 Minutes" is obviously not enough time to encompass the hubris and arrogance of the press. The ruthlessness and coarse efficiency of the Russians, the suave and snobby imperial attitude of the French, the fecklessness of the American State Department, and the bureaucratic paralysis of the political arm of the White House as well.

In reality, Fox has given us a cautionary tale. In Hitchcock's movies, the McGuffin, the pivot upon which the movie turned -- for example the bottle of uranium ore in the basement of the house in "Notorious" -- is just the gimmick that makes the movie fun and gives it its reason for being. The real thrill, the real danger, the real suspense comes from the psychological and political issues at play, and the players who play it. Given the current state of politics, a future such as Fox has painted is completely plausible -- only the method of Europe's betrayal and subversion of American power may differ in its details. Whether by a space war, or by other means, unchecked political trends in the world do not bode well for the American future.

Take it as a warning -- America has fewer and fewer friends in this world -- and appeasing and being supine is not going to win the day.

You won't be sorry you read this book -- I'm not. I enjoyed it thoroughly from beginning to heart-stopping ending. Bravo and well done.


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