The Scorpion’s Gate

August 27th, 2006

Richard Clarke is famous for something that isn’t all that noteworthy: he said Bush has handled things wrong and was doing the wrong thing. The difference that made Clarke famous and not you or I is that Bush had appointed him as “Counterterrorism Czar” first, he said it more or less to the man’s face, and he lost that job because of it. Since then he’s become a regular on the political interview circuit, and written several books. The Scorpion’s Gate is his first attempt at fiction, though…and sadly, it shows. Our story revolves around Russel MacIntyre, the Deputy Director of a new government agency that coordinates and analyzes intelligence from the various organizations that gather it. He’s very serious about his job and how important it is; unfortunately, everybody calls him Rusty, which is so juvenile and archaic a diminutive that I could never quite take him seriously. Rusty’s world is Richard Clarke’s prediction of what our world might look like in another decade or so, at least, if our society’s technological advancements mysteriously stop happening next year sometime; that is to say, this is not near-future science fiction. There’s really no interesting science, here, and although some of the military hardware is described in the military thriller’s traditional “gun-porn” detail, it’s almost entirely current in its vintage. In short, genre aficionados will not find their fix here. Aided by an attractive freelance journalist and a British Intelligence agent, Rusty discovers a conspiracy between high-level Iranian officials, radical Islamic groups in the new Islamic nation of “Islamyah” (formed out of the ruins of the collapsed Iraqi puppet state and a post-coup Saudi Arabia), and Chinese military officials. This is where the near future speculative fiction comes in, really, is in Clarke’s political forecasting. Clarke’s rationale for writing this book was, as is hinted at by the quote on the cover, “Sometimes you can tell more truth through fiction.” Much of what Clarke knows and could say about the details of the political situation throughout the Middle East, supposedly, is classified or otherwise restricted for reasons of National Security; by renaming key players and shuffling details around by shifting things into the future, Clarke can use that information in the structure of his story without as much governmental oversight and censoring. You may have noticed I haven’t really told you much about Clarke’s characters or the story’s plot, and that’s because they’re largely unmemorable. Suffice it to say that not everybody lives, important elements of the plot are thwarted, lots of things blow up, and the ending has a note of hope to it. This isn’t very good fiction, but I believe it does contain some insight into the way Iran manipulates Islamic extremist groups like Hezbollah, beliefs which have only been strengthened by what I’ve seen reported about the recent events in Lebanon. As it shakes out, I wouldn’t seek this book out for its entertainment value, but for political insight and an interesting picture of one way in which the eternally chaotically unstable Middle Eastern region might settle out, it might be worth a look.

Leave a Reply