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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Reading List: The Athena Project

Thor, Brad. The Athena Project. New York: Pocket Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-9297-9.
This is the tenth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). In this novel Harvath has only a walk-on rôle, while centre stage is occupied by the all-woman Athena Team of special operators we first encountered in the previous novel in the series, Foreign Influence (July 2010). These women, recruited from top competitors in extreme sports, are not only formidable at shooting, fighting, parachuting, underwater operations, and the rest of the panoply of skills of their male counterparts, they are able to blend in more easily in many contexts than their burly, buzz-cut colleagues and, when necessary, use their feminine wiles to disarm (sometimes literally) the adversary.

Deployed on a mission to seize and exfiltrate an arms merchant involved in a terrorist attack on U.S. civilians in Europe, the team ends up in a James Bond style shoot-out and chase through the canals of Venice. Meanwhile, grisly evidence in the Paraguayan jungle indicates that persons unknown may have come into possession of a Nazi wonder weapon from the last days of World War II and are bent on using it with potentially disastrous consequences.

The Athena Team must insinuate themselves into an underground redoubt in Eastern Europe, discover its mysteries, and figure out the connections to the actors plotting mass destruction, then neutralise them.

I've enjoyed all the Brad Thor novels I've read so far, but this one, in my opinion, doesn't measure up to the standard of those earlier in the series. First of all, the fundamental premise of the super-weapon at the centre of the plot is physically absurd, and all the arm-waving in the world can't make it plausible. Also, as Larry Niven observed, any society which develops such a technology will quickly self-destruct (which doesn't mean it's impossible, but may explain why we do not observe intelligent aliens in the universe). I found the banter among the team members and with their male colleagues contrived and tedious: I don't think such consummate professionals would behave in such a manner, especially while on the clock. Attention to detail on the little things is excellent, although that Air Force base in the Florida panhandle is “Eglin”, not “Elgin” (p. 202).

This is a well-crafted thriller and enjoyable “airplane book”. Once you get past the implausibility of the super-weapon (as many readers who have only heard of such concepts in the popular press will), the story moves right along. It's substantially harder to tell a story involving a team of four equals (albeit with different talents) than one with a central character such as Scot Harvath, and I don't think the author completely pulls it off: the women are not sufficiently distinguished from one another and tend to blend together as team members rather than be identified with their individual characteristics.

Posted at December 3, 2013 21:52