It’s time for our first Devlin-focused chapter, and nothing much actually happens – he basically just stares at his super-awesome spy phone and waits for it to ring in connection with the middle school hostage crisis- but it does establish one of Walsh’s bad writing habits, one we’re going to be running up against over and over throughout the book: something I call techno-ejaculation, or a tendency to vomit great steaming gobs of nonsensical techno-babble all over the page.
“Tom Powers” shut down the secure GRID connection to Eddie Bartlett’s phone. In sequence, the call had been routed through multiple fake IP/Skype addresses, an Israeli officer’s satellite phone, a defunct al-Qaeda cutout in Treviso, and a soon-to-be-deceased Columbian drug dealer’s private line in Bogota. It would take Eddie and his team three hours to get to the Xe airfield southeast of St. Louis. They weren’t mission operable yet, but there was no point in wasting any time in case the situation went full Branch 4.
For this mission, he was using James Cagney characters as rotating aliases; at random intervals, the CSS computers would instruct all Branch 4 ops to re-code and then, by running the Level Six double-blind ciphers through IMDB-Pro, they’d generate a whole new set of operational monikers. And by the time anybody might have the remotest chance in hell of making them, the names would be gone, blown away on the cyber-wind, never to be used again.
The GRID itself was the next-generation Internet, a network of more than 100,000 supercomputers powered by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Not only was it infinitely faster than the Internet, it could also benignly hijack the computing power of unused personal computers on the network, setting them to work while their owners slept, watched porn, or played video games.
Yes, you read that correctly: Devlin is using a next-generation internet powered by the large hadron collider. Why or how it would have this capability is never explained (if we’re to take “powered by” literally it becomes even more ludicrous as the LHC does not generate energy; it actually consumes gigantic quantities), nor do we get any explanation for why CERN, a civilian science organization with no political allegiance to the US, would allow the NSA to use their machine to hijack people’s computers. The only possible explanation I can come up with for this is that Walsh read about the gigantic on-site IT infrastructure and cloud computing technology used to process the raw data from the LHC and either misunderstood it or got a bit carried away with himself.
Despite how wordy this chapter is we don’t actually learn much of anything about Devlin himself apart from some extremely vague background information:
It was a name he barely remembered, a name from so long ago that it belonged to another person, a boy who’d once had everything a boy should have and then suddenly lost everything. A boy that had been very much like him, until he was gone.
AN UNDYING SHADOW IN A WORLD OF LIGHTS
(I really hope you’re all familiar with Metal Gear Solid because I’m going to keep making jokes about it)
The other thing we learn about Devlin is the ludicrous array of security systems in his house, most of which could easily kill him by accident. They include:
– A room that can be sealed with halogen gas and then electrified
– A phone with a built-in fingerprint scanner, voice recognition system and retinal scanner, all three of which need to confirm his ID in order for the phone to not lethally self-destruct
– A mirror with a retinal scanner in it that activates a sliding security gate if it isn’t activated when the front door opens
– Also, his communication system is EMP resistant, through means that are never elaborated on
It is heavily implied that this is only a small sample of the many traps concealed in Devlin’s house.
The question that naturally arises is why anyone- anyone in the world– would need this much security. Heads of state don’t have this much security. CEOs with enough money to fund entire countries for a year don’t have this kind of security. Hell not even nuclear weapons get this much security (unfortunately).
The actual reason is that Walsh, like a great many writers of techno-thrillers, simply can’t restrain himself. I’ve never particularly understood the appeal of reading detailed descriptions of guns, military vehicles and security apparatuses but I suppose for people who do enjoy it this must be entertaining.
Before we leave Devlin let’s get a description of a terrorist plot foiled by the USA since 9/11:
There was the Arab cell that had come down from Canada, trying to pass themselves off as American Indians on one of the upstate New York reservations while they waited for the activation codes on a low-yield nuclear device they had smuggled from the former Soviet Union to Halifax, financing the operation by bootlegging cigarettes from the reservation to the outside world and pocketing a fortune in tax avoidance.
I don’t need to go into the many, many absurdities involved here, do I?
For chapter 8 it’s back over to President Tyler and the many ways he’s a failure as a president, according to Walsh. First off is that he doesn’t like the military. Second, he….. actually that’s pretty much it. I mean, the guy is clearly way too preoccupied with his popularity and getting re-elected, but I’d argue that’s true of most politicians.
Over the course of this chapter Walsh has Colonel Grizzard (yes, really), the President’s military attache, gasp with horror and/or growl at Tyler more or less every time he opens his mouth, but his actions actually seem quite reasonable to me. He orders all special forces, police and FBI away from the school, which I think we’re supposed to see as cowardice, but since none of them are showing any inclination to actually do anything and the terrorists have clearly threatened to start shooting children if this demand isn’t met I don’t understand what’s so heinous about it.
Shortly afterward Tyler gives a speech that’s filled with empty platitudes designed to keep the public placated, but- again- so are all political speeches. And yet Grizzard and General Seelye (the head of the NSA, remember) shake their heads and roll their eyes through the whole thing as if they’ve never heard a presidential address before. I get that the point is supposed to be that Tyler is promising to end the crisis without taking any action to do so, but the thing is, we never learn what actions Grizzard and Seelye would be taking if they were in his shoes. Storm the school? They acknowledge themselves that this would likely turn into another Beslan. Negotiate? The United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, remember? Send snipers to shoot the enemy, as in the Maersk-Alabama incident? Probably not going to work with the terrorists in a school gym, although their leaders habit of walking out the door while surrounded by heavily armed federal agents should help somewhat.
(Sniping does, in fact, end up mostly resolving the crisis but it’s only because Devlin has a magic rifle that can blast through multiple concrete walls. You’l see later)
But never mind all that, it’s time to take a quick detour to…..
Yes, Liechtenstein. We’re here to be introduced to the actual villain of the story:
It turns out the real bad guy is a vaguely effeminate European rich dude, named Emanuel Skorzeny. He has vases full of white roses all over his office and is extremely finicky about his personal space and hygiene, which makes him uncannily similar to good old Darken Rahl. He even has a “no flower petals can fall off” rule, although he just fires his henchmen if they mess up instead of having them murdered.
Basically all that happens in this chapter is that Emanuel’s board of fabulously wealthy evil dudes swing by to concoct a vaguely alluded to financial plot involving the hostage crisis; there’s a whole lot of “as you know, the scheme in which we’re currently involved could benefit greatly from this situation if we take the following actions, which I have conveniently had typed out for you instead of explaining out loud”. We get more detail on what Emanual actually does and what he’s planning, but I’ll skip it now since later chapters explain in-depth. Suffice to say, it doesn’t make much sense.
As was his habitual wont, he was sipping a glass of Russian tea, the red-hot glass protectively surrounded by a burnished silver holder that was probably worth five thousand American dollars all by itself.
You can tell when people are bad guys because they use the phrase “X number of American dollars”. Also what is with people in fiction doing that? Do Americans just think their currency is held in such high esteem, people in other countries constantly convert to it all the time? Wouldn’t Emanuel just think “it’s probably worth whatever number of [checks Wikipedia] Swiss Francs”?
Worried, anxious, well-fed midwestern faces filled the screen, their braying American accents falling harshly upon the ears of the sophisticated Europeans watching from thousands of miles away.
The other way you can tell that people are evil- at least in a Michael Walsh novel- is that they make fun of midwestern Americans. I think literally every evil or unsympathetic character in the book does it at least once.
Skorzeny spoke, “This is the United States of America, Anno Domini 2009. Excuse me, Common Era, 2009. The Lord is not much in our minds these days.”
THOSE DURN LIBERALS AND THEIR SECULARIZATION
“Not the fearsome warrior it [the USA] once was. Instead, a country ruled by women and eunuchs.
I quote this to point out that Walsh doesn’t strictly draw his heroes and villains by purely ideological lines; the negative opinion of modern America that Emanuel expressed above is more or less the same one that the good guys hold. It’s just that Devlin and his allies either believe the country can be set to right, or come to believe so by the end of the book.