A Gun and a Bad Attitude

Another post I tripped over recently was Ian Coates’ “High-Tech & the Modern Thriller“.

He raises some good points about the difficulty of thriller writers these days who must stay abreast of all technology that can be used for intelligence work (not a small amount), and how it works, while incorporating it into their work, because it’s no longer the 1930s when an author (such as Christie) could simply stick everyone on an isolated island and let events play out.

I dunno about that.

I think about James Bond in his heyday, when the gadgets were four-fifths of the finale.  He even got into space in one movie (at which point, I stopped watching them).

On the other hand, the best James Bond move of recent date is Casino Royale, where Bond gets by pretty much with a gun and a bad attitude.  It took another 1.5 movies for Q to pop up.

Tech for the sake of it is boring, no matter how cool it is (and some of it is, I admit, pretty fucking cool).  They can overwhelm the story and blinker the reader into missing the fact that there is no character arc going on.

Tech with character, though, hell yeah.   I point to James Cameron for a really good example of getting the balance right.  The Abyss is a case in point.  Aliens, too.

Anothing thing about tech in thrillers.  Ever noticed how every gadget, program, app and device works flawlessly?  Outdated software never jams things up, caches never fill, apps don’t mysteriously slow down.  Files are never lost.

The super-advanced, beyond cutting-edge apps should  break down, because most of them are beta-stage only, or else so freaking new, no one has put them into situations the creators never anticipated and reported back to the designers on the meltdown of said device.

On top of that–not every government has an unlimited budget to let their intelligence operatives loose in toyland.

Even if they did, if espionage is out of favour with the powers-that-be, the money for cutting edge tech still isn’t going to appear.

Then there’s the bad guys.  They usually have money falling out of their pockets, yes.  But it’s not endless.  The richest man in the world still has to make a decision about this fifteen million dollar helicopter over here, or that new shiny gadget there.

They can’t have everything, even if they can afford it because those so-new-you’ve-never-heard-of-them gadgets are in limited supply.  Sometimes only one or two exist in the entire world.

So high tech is cool ‘n all, and it’s fun trying to keep up, but not everyone can.  It’s impossible.  Just as it’s impossible that every spy in the world has access to every peice of tech in the world and it all operates flawlessly.

Unless it is James Bond, in which case, geek out.

Raising The Drawbridge

Daniel J. Sawyer, science fiction and mystery writer, recently posted his annual look at the future, this year entitled “The Year of the Jackpot“.

It’s a fairly dim view of the immediate future.  Sawyer assembles his argument with aplomb, though.

As I’m outside the United States, I have a different perspective, but still can’t argue with most of his observations.  The current NAFTA negotiations are bogging down in the mud.  The Pan Pacific Trade Agreement is heading in the same direction.

From the outside, the United States is raising the drawbridge.

Does that isolationist paranoia remind you of anything?

Happy New Year…yes?

This day in 2009 — only eight years ago — the first block of the blockchain of the Bitcoin decentralized payment system, was established by the creator of the system, Satoshi Nakamoto.

Bitcoin spent years building business on the dark web, but just in the last few months has exploded upon the legitimate business world.  Everyone seems to be getting into blockchain investments, Bitcoin in particular (although Bitcoin is just one of several applications built upon the blockchain technology).

Ironically, the first block that Nakamoto launched was called the Genesis block.

Why would I mention a money system/hot investment opportunity on a blog about thriller novels?

Because at the heart of some of the very best thrillers lies a conspiracy and I love a damned good conspiracy.  Ludlum, Baldacci, and the paranoia king himself, Dan Brown (in admittedly small doses).

The thought occurred to me that the whole Bitcoin phenomenon could be a huge private conspiracy to tear down the world’s financial institutions.  In my quiet corner of the globe, I have not yet seen Bitcoin in operation.  I only know it exists because the media and the Internet say it is, and we all know how reliable the word of those two estates is, right?

Everyone keeps expecting the Bitcoin investment bubble to explode sooner, rather than later.  But everyone is holding on, anyway–have you noticed?  There are even new investors scrambling to hop aboard the gravy train, figuring it’s better late than never.

It reminds me strongly of the everyman investment craze that preceded the Wall Street crash in 1929.

The whole point about the blockchain technology is that it keeps participants anonymous.  It allows a cartel kingpin to handshake a seventeen million dollar deal with a buyer in Europe…who could very well be the CIA sniffing around for a clue, but who cares?  The kingpin can’t see them.  They can’t see him.  Money is exchanged, the deal is done, everyone wins (unless it really was the CIA, in which case…sucker!).

It’s been said that decentralized money systems could bring the world into a new phase of political power.  So why are current power holders tripping over themselves to invest in the technology?  It can’t be simply to shut the tech down once they get a majority sharehold, or to spike the system and make it stumble.  The tech is open sourced software — out there for anyone to download and use.  There must be thousands of copies of the software by now, living on hard drives and cloud storage across the globe.  There are a dozen other Bitcoin clones that would happily take the #1 spot, too (again, allegedly waiting).

I can’t help thinking of the British armada made of wood and canvas that De Needle stumbled over in Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett.

You have to ask yourself who would benefit from the implosion of western financial institutions?

The possible candidates make an unsettling list.

Now it is 2018, I’ll be settling into the conception work and plotting for the first thriller series.

I’m thinking a nice meaty conspiracy might be in order….



Only a Week Away

The holiday break and 2018 are swiftly approaching.  Normally, I like the fresh-slate feel of the new year, which reeks of hope and good intentions (which, sadly, grow stale for most people by mid-February).

If nothing else, the new year is a time for some wild speculation and what-if…? questions that stimulate the imagination of more people than just authors.

This year, though, the first day of the new year represents a different landmark for me.

I’ll be moving on to new territory.  This territory, in fact, as represented by the blog.  I will be building the concept and premise and structuring the stories for a three book spy thriller series.

I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot, and researching thrillers in general.  I’ve read ’em all my life and love them, but reading them and writing them takes different mind muscles.

I’m looking forward to the mental stretching.

What big goals are you going for in 2018?

Queerer Than We Can Suppose

Recently, Early Bird Books released a list of 15 Nonfiction Spy Books More Thrilling Than John le Carré, (it’s a good list, too) along with the observation that “when it comes to spy stories, the truth is often stranger—and more compelling—than fiction.”

It puts in mind the J.B.S. Haldane quote:

My own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

Haldane was referring to science and future frontiers.

But the world of intelligence really is a different sort of frontier, one where, just like Vegas, what happens there, tends to stay there.

Even in this day of all-inclusive Internet and the decloaking of the true nature of public figures everywhere (here and here, for example), there are many places where intelligence and counter-intelligence professionals around the world talk about their work…and it even seems normal, after the frank in-the-buff revelations of the TV and entertainment world.

Only, in a profession that defines itself by its clandestine nature, those who really know the truth have been conditioned to not speak about it.  The real spies are unknown and invisible and prefer it that way.  Getting one of them to talk about their work–even the declassified stuff, and even just from the corner of their mouth–is next to impossible.

We think we know the spy world and can guess the rest.  I believe what we think we know is just a glimpse of a bigger picture from the corner of our eyes and that glimpse is blurred and out of focus, too.

Next time you watch or read a spy thriller that seems just too over-the-top to be believed…think about Haldane, and reconsider.

Overlooked and Underappreciated

I tend to catch up with TV shows long after it is sexy or trendy to be watching them. I like to binge watch a season, too—so I can absorb the structure of the story arcs as a whole That’s why I’m only just starting to watch Quantico, the ABC network’s TV series featuring new agents in training and a high-stakes conspiracy involving a nuclear bomb just to make it interesting.

I’ve spoken elsewhere about the general quality of the show (surprisingly good), and its watchability (engaging).

I did want to circle back to something that bothers the shit out of me about the show, however.

All the major characters in the show are training to be field agents.

So far, so good.

Halfway through the season, though, a cadre of analysts-in-training go nose-to-nose with the “nats” (new agent in training). Through three or four episodes, the analysts were portrayed as geeks or worse, nerds, good for nothing but staring at screens. They were disparaged. When one of the major characters was kicked out of nat training and placed with the analysts, everyone—including the character himself—considered the move to be a demotion. A second-best compromise.

Which makes me shake my head.

I do understand that there’s nothing sexy about analyzing data. Only, it saves lives.

It has been stated more than once, in dozens of sources, books and by even more experts, that many of the world’s crises and in particular, terrorist activities, are anticipated by the intelligence community. Like a fly making a cobweb tremble, alerting the spider in the center, intelligence operatives pick up rumors and rumbles, disparate facts and uninteresting data that, if put together in the correct way, would terrify the crap out of their governments. 9/11 was not so much a failure of the intelligence community, but an inability of the intelligence analysts to put the raw facts together correctly.

Name any major political event in the last one hundred years, and I bet solid money that operatives had most of the major facts in hand before the event, but failed to pool their data, which would present a complete picture, or the analysts failed to interpret the data correctly—and probably because they didn’t have all the major facts to do so.

While operates are sexy and Bondesque, and I can understand the entertainment world’s focus on them as the heroes, I think it’s wrong to paint the analysts as second-best, because they’re not. They’re at least equal with operatives, the yin to the operatives’ yang.

Without analysts, the world would be a scary place.

TV and movies have a huge social impact—their influence is undeniable, and provable. Yale researchers have demonstrated, for example, that the movie The Day After Tomorrow increased the awareness of global warming and environmental change in the movie-going public. With clout like that, shouldn’t entertainers pause to consider the message they’re giving, while they’re soliciting next season’s budget?

The Auspicious First Post

Given the general theme of this site and my books, it seems appropriate that the very first post be posted today, Remembrance Day — Veteran’s Day for those in the USA.

I will add posts here occasionally, giving updates on progress of the first series and other news, but I wanted to get this one out of the way.

Although, I do have a question for you.  How did you find this site?  If you let me know in a comment, that will help me connect with more readers like you.

Thank you.