Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Corpse in Armor

Writing books is inherently unrewarding until people read them. Then the reward is more psychological then monetary. Unless you are J. K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, Nelson Demille or Stieg Larsson, you aren't going to reap the big bucks. People decide to read your books because they hear about them. So, reviews are critical. Then you get motivated to possibly drain another bucket of your creative blood and do it all again.

If you scan New Paltz Journal occasionally, you probably know that Martin McPhillips has got a book out. What you may not have deduced is that it is a fictional tale with tight links to our eroding national situation. Here's a brilliant review from RicketyClick . The style is unconventional for a book review, but it sure will make you want to read it:

Review: A Corpse in Armor
You walk past the guard station and down the hall. A door in front of you clicks ajar; like all of the doors, it lacks both number and latch. You push in, and the door latches behind you.

The concrete block walls of the room are off-white under a featureless fluorescent ceiling. There’s a table, steel framed, with heavy tapering legs and a Formica top. The chair is also steel, with a molded but unpadded seat. Both are bolted to the floor. A brown expanding folder lays in the exact center of the table. A laser-printed label on the flap bears a bar-code and the legend A Corpse In Armor. Other than that, the room is empty — not even a wastebasket. You sit down, unwind the flap string, and dump out the contents.

There’s some background material: Individuals are shown either in ID photos or in surveillance images with the surroundings masked out. Settings are identified by surveillance photos with the people masked out. All the images are in black and white. There are several summaries of coroner’s reports. Notes on conducting asymmetrical warfare on American soil. A short paper on the academic barriers facing study of certain aspects of post-WWII history. Several interrogation transcripts or summaries thereof. An inexplicable flurry of receipts for takeout coffee.

The bulk of the file, however, consists of after-action reports.

They are first person accounts of a newly recruited, low-level operative whose need-to-know was…pressing, as far as it went, but not broad. There’s just enough info to get the story across, no more. No color, no texture, no context, little passion (and yet it is clear that only those with great passion would undertake this life), not even much jargon. For instance, this might have been an opportunity to present some good lessons in trade-craft, ala TV’s Burn Notice, but the focus is on the action; what craft there is, is implicit in the narrative.

The action is compelling, though, and the overall pattern is unmistakable to anyone who pays attention to news beyond the papers and cable TV; anyone who owns a gun for self-defense; anyone who refuses to believe that America is the worst nation ever to foul the planet. You find yourself nodding, time and again, but you wish you didn’t have to: the symptoms are dire, the diagnosis is clear, and the prognosis is not good.

This file presents a scenario that is perhaps somewhat outdated, even optimistic — for instance, the President is merely uninvolved, neither a serious suspect nor appallingly incompetent. Nevertheless, this is the war we’re in. You understand that in essence, the enemies of America are portrayed accurately; some aspects have played out in the news since this was compiled.

When you are finished, you shuffle the contents back into their folder. You stand up, bladder aching, stretch, and stand in front of the door. It doesn’t open immediately, and you hear faint footsteps outside. When they pass, the door latch clicks open. You walk past the guard station, and get on the elevator.

Your recruiter is waiting in the lobby. He says nothing, just cocks an eyebrow.

You nod. You’re in.

He points you to a restroom, to a break room with a coffee machine, and to the stairwell to the parking garage.

“Downstairs. Ten minutes.”

1 comment:

DJMoore said...

Thanks for the link, and the kind words. Praise from you is high praise indeed.