A book

A bookRemember those paper-and-ink-based information storage devices with the multi-page user interface? Yeah – books! I just read Richard Clarke’s Scorpion’s Gate – the first novel I read in years – and I could not put it down for two nights. The man sure knows how to spin a yarn, but the way the story comments on current events is also quite enthralling. In his story, he basically overlays a global worst-case scenario with a post-Saud Arabian state, Shia-Sunni rivalries and Chinese nukes onto the political constellation right before the 2003 invasion of Iraq and weaves it all together with a classical spy-novel yarn. Very nice.

And also very “not nice.” His underlying commentary on the US leadership clique is rather biting, as he paints his fictional Secretary of Defense as a corrupt, scheming warmonger. Yet, he also does not shy away from letting his idealism show, as his heroes are painted in rather simple strokes, more or less as the “smart good guys who just want to do what’s right.” His characters are not terribly complex, but credible, partly, I think, because their language is so authentic. Like when he has the Secretary of Defense toss a dry “Fuck you” at one of his underlings, echoing Cheney’s insightful advice to Leahy. Also, as a former insider, Clarke is able to paint a vivid tableau full of remarkable detail of the inside of the White House and the Pentagon and various locations around the Middle East, something most authors in this genre have to research painstakingly.

Clarke’s story maintains a tremendous momentum, weaving its threads tighter and tighter across 300 pages, to a dramatic climax. The book turns a bit preachy on last pages, but then, he is making a point here and that gets a bit in the way of literary style. The Scorpion’s Gate is not the “Great American Novel” but it’s a great novel about American foreign policy and the effects of American leadership blindly meddling in other cultures with no understanding or regard for those cultures. The Scorpion’s Gate is also a fun read, a great spy novel, made even greater by its relevance and insight, and precisely by the point it makes.

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