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Monday, October 28, 2019

Reading List: The Tower of the Bear

Wood, Fenton. The Tower of the Bear. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2019. ASIN B07XB8XWNF.
This is the third short novel/novella (145 pages) in the author's Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves (May 2019), as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts (June 2019), “enchanting”. In this volume, the protagonist, Philo Hergenschmidt, embarks upon a hero's journey to locate a treasure dating from the origin of the Earth which may be the salvation of radio station 2XG and the key to accomplishing the unrealised dream of the wizard who built it, Zaros the Electromage.

Philo's adventures take him into the frozen Arctic where he meets another Old One, to the depths of the Arctic Ocean in the fabulous submarine of the eccentric Captain Kolodziej, into the lair of a Really Old One where he almost seizes the prize he seeks, and then on an epic road trip. After the Partition of North America, the West, beyond the Mississippi, was ceded by the Republic to the various aboriginal tribes who lived there, and no Yankee dare enter this forbidden territory except to cross it on the Tyrant's Road, which remained Yankee territory with travellers given free passage by the tribes—in theory. In fact, no white man was known to have ventured West on the Road in a century.

Philo has come to believe that the “slow iron” he seeks may be found in the fabled City of the Future, said to be near the Pacific coast at the end of the Tyrant's Road. The only way to get there is to cross the continent, and the only practical means, there being no gas stations or convenience stores along the way, is by bicycle. Viridios helps Philo obtain a superb bicycle and trailer, and equip himself with supplies for the voyage. Taking leave of Viridios at the Mississippi and setting out alone, he soon discovers everything is not what it was said to be, and that the West is even more mysterious, dangerous, and yet enchanted than the stories he's heard since boyhood.

It is, if nothing else, diverse. In its vast emptiness there are nomadic bands pursuing the vast herds of bison on horseback with bows and arrows, sedentary tribes who prefer to ride the range in Japanese mini-pickup trucks, a Universal Library which is an extreme outlier even among the exotic literature of universal libraries, a hidden community that makes Galt's Gulch look like a cosmopolitan crossroads, and a strange people who not only time forgot, but who seem to have forgotten time. Philo's native mechanical and electrical knack gets him out of squeezes and allows him to trade know-how for information and assistance with those he encounters.

Finally, near the shore of the ocean, he comes to a great Tree, beyond imagining in its breadth and height. What is there to be learned here, and what challenges will he face as he continues his quest?

This is a magnificent continuation of one of the best young adult alternative history tales I've encountered in many years. Don't be put off by the “young adult” label—while you can hand this book to any youngster from age nine on up and be assured they'll be enthralled by the adventure and not distracted by the superfluous grunge some authors feel necessary to include when trying to appeal to a “mature” audience, the author never talks down to the reader, and even engineers and radio amateurs well versed in electronics will learn arcana such as the generation and propagation of extremely low frequency radio waves. This is a story which genuinely works for all ages.

This book is currently available only in a Kindle edition. Note that you don't need a physical electronic book reader, tablet, or mobile phone to read Kindle books. Free Kindle applications are available which let you read on Macintosh and Windows machines, and a Kindle Cloud Reader allows reading Kindle books on any machine with a modern Web browser, including all Linux platforms. The fourth volume, The City of Illusions, is scheduled to be published in December, 2019.

Posted at 22:36 Permalink

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Reading List: Lethal Agent

Mills, Kyle. Lethal Agent. New York: Atria Books, 2019. ISBN 978-1-5011-9062-9.
This is the fifth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author).

In the third Mitch Rapp novel by Kyle Mills, Enemy of the State (June 2018), Rapp decapitated the leadership of ISIS by detonating a grenade in a cave where they were meeting and barely escaped with his life when the cavern collapsed. As the story concluded, it was unknown whether the leader of ISIS, Mullah Sayid Halabi, was killed in the cave-in. Months later, evidence surfaces that Halabi survived, and may be operating in chaotic, war-torn Yemen. Rapp tracks him to a cave in the Yemeni desert but finds only medical equipment apparently used to treat his injuries: Halabi has escaped again.

A Doctors Without Borders team treating victims of a frighteningly contagious and virulent respiratory disease which has broken out in a remote village in Yemen is attacked and its high-profile microbiologist is kidnapped, perhaps by Halabi's people to work on bioweapons. Meanwhile, by what amounts to pure luck, a shipment of cocaine from Mexico is intercepted and found to contain, disguised among the packets of the drug, a brick of weaponised anthrax, leading authorities to suspect the nightmare scenario in which one or more Mexican drug cartels are cooperating with Islamic radicals to smuggle terrorists and weapons across the porous southern border of the U.S.

In Washington, a presidential election is approaching, and President Alexander, who will be leaving after two terms, seems likely to be replaced by the other party's leading contender, the ruthless and amoral Senator Christine Barnett, who is a sworn enemy of CIA director Irene Kennedy and operative Mitch Rapp, and, if elected, is likely to, at best, tie them up in endless congressional hearings and, at worst, see them both behind bars. Barnett places zero priority on national security or the safety of the population, and is willing to risk either to obtain political advantage.

Halabi's plans become evident when a slickly-produced video appears on the Internet, featuring a very much alive Halabi saying, “Now I have your biological weapons experts. Now I have the power to use your weapons against you.” The only way to track down Halabi, who has relocated to parts unknown, is by infiltrating the Mexican cartel behind the intercepted shipment. Rapp devises a plan to persuade the cartel boss he has gone rogue and is willing to sign on as an enforcer. Having no experience operating in Mexico or more than a few words of Spanish, and forced to operate completely on his own, he must somehow convince the cartel to let him inside its inner circle and then find the connection to Halabi and thwart his plans, which Rapp and others suspect may be far more sinister than sprinkling some anthrax around. (You don't need an expert microbiologist to weaponise anthrax, after all.)

This thriller brings back the old, rough-edged, and unrelenting Mitch Rapp of some of Vince Flynn's early novels. And this is a Rapp who has seen enough of the Washington swamp and the creatures who inhabit it to have outgrown any remaining dewy-eyed patriotism. In chapter 22, he says,

But what I do know is that the U.S. isn't ready. If Halabi's figured out a way to hit us with something big—something biological—what's our reaction going to be? The politicians will run for the hills and point fingers at each other. And the American people…. They faint if someone uses insensitive language in their presence and half of them couldn't run up a set of stairs if you put a gun to their head. What'll happen if the real s*** hits the fan? What are they going to do if they're faced with something that can't be fixed by a Facebook petition?

So Rapp is as ruthless with his superiors as with the enemy, and obtains the free hand he needs to get the job done. Eventually Rapp and his team identify what is a potentially catastrophic threat and must swing into action, despite the political and diplomatic repercussions, to avert disaster. And then it is time to settle some scores.

Kyle Mills has delivered another thriller which is both in the tradition of Mitch Rapp and also further develops his increasingly complex character in new ways.

Posted at 16:01 Permalink