World at war
By Steven Martinovich
That's the world award winning science fiction author Greg Bear has created in Quantico, a techno-thriller novel which is all too plausible. Global terrorism has exploded -- literally and figuratively -- with deadly attacks on American soil and religious attacks sin the Middle East. The American-led war against terrorism appears to be failing as the nation's enemies become more technologically adept and law enforcement infighting hampers efforts.
The world becomes much more dangerous the instant a mysterious man with mismatched eyes claims the ultimate terrorist ability: an anthrax which has been genetically modified to kill specific groups. This new terrifying super weapon appears to be manufactured in the United States by an alleged ally: a white supremacist Christian fanatic nicknamed The Patriarch.
Lined up against him and his domestic allies are three newly minted FBI agents, William Griffin, Jane Rowland and Fouad al-Husam, and veteran agent and bioweapons expert Rebecca Rose. Griffin, Rowland and Rose tackle the domestic angle while al-Husam joins a special unit made up of Muslims which is soon sent overseas to investigate a related terrorist attack and prevent future ones.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, their efforts are handicapped as much by their own government as by the designs of the terrorists they are in quest of. Domestic politics threatens to remove the FBI from the role of domestic terrorist hunter and even the future of the agency itself. Limited in their efforts to find a terrorist mastermind, the agents are forced to even occasionally bend the law to move their investigation forward.
Despite those limitations the FBI is able to stop terrorist attacks against Rome and Jerusalem and it's suspected that Mecca and its hajj are the next target. The agents soon find themselves bundled off to Saudi Arabia to prevent an anthrax attack against the one million Muslims who participate in the pilgrimage annually. Very soon they learn that perhaps the terrorist plot they have stumbled into may be far more ambitious than attacks based on religious hatred.
Eventually readers will find that the man with the mismatched eyes isn't all that he appears, and disturbingly his motivation for the terrorist attacks he has planned – both in the U.S. and across the planet -- is understandable, in a twisted sort of way. While his plan comes with a horrific price, the outcome is something that we all desire.
Bear is an accomplished writer but Quantico occasionally suffers from a glacial plot and graceless dialogue. That minor criticism aside, the novel is an ambitious and ultimately successful effort which paints an all too realistic future and shows that Bear can play in the same league as the Tom Clancys of the world. Quantico works as a techno-thriller, a critique of agencies too busy defending their turf to cooperate in anti-terrorist efforts and a political process willing to hamstring its own efforts to protect itself. Quantico may be fiction but it's too rooted in reality to easily dismiss.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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