Dale Brown's new techno-thriller, 'Executive Intent'

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By Art Taylor
Wednesday, September 1, 2010


By Dale Brown


371 pp. $26.99

There's a lot of baggage to be checked before the real story takes off in the 22nd book from ace techno-thriller writer Dale Brown: a four-page cast of characters, a four-page glossary of weapons, five pages of acronyms and terminology and 13 pages of "Real-World News Excerpts" from sources like Aviation Week, Defense Technology International and http://sinodefence.com. And that just brings you to the prologue.

But high stakes await. Extrapolating from those actual news snippets, Brown imagines an alternative, not-too-distant future tipping toward turmoil. Eight years after the 2004 American Holocaust (a nuclear smackdown between the United States and Russia), Washington is gearing up for new dominance in space. Armstrong Space Station keeps close surveillance on global security, and armed satellites debut a new non-nuclear weapon called Mjollnir, Thor's Hammer, which offers blisteringly powerful strike capabilities at any point on Earth. As other nations confab about responses, China emerges from its isolationist shell: "The world's largest standing army from the world's most populous country [is] doing what the world has feared for two millennia: breaking out of its borders and massing troops elsewhere on the planet." Back in Washington, another battle brews between a concessionist president and his hawkish VP. Oh, and don't forget the bloodthirsty Somali pirates.

Followers of Brown's novels will undoubtedly glimpse more substance behind the regular series characters here, but anyone coming to him for the first time will find a story that resembles all that prefatory material: people dwarfed by lavish descriptions of aircraft, acronym-laden action sequences and endless governmental deliberations. Many scenes sound like meeting minutes, listing attendees before rolling out defense reports, strategic assessments and political appraisals. "DSP and SBIRS-High did exactly what they were supposed to do: detect the thermal bloom," explains a brigadier general in a fairly standard exchange. "On a typical DF-21 attack, the missile rises almost straight up to its intercept point, which means no track develops, or the track was still obscured by the ground fire. Only SBIRS-Low or Kingfisher-Eight could have tracked a DF-21."

Small power plays ultimately reveal the book as not just speculative fiction but another brand of political fantasy, where tough-minded conservatives squash lily-livered liberals: "When being a globalist and appeaser is more important than even a single American life, I don't want to be part of that administration," one undersecretary of defense proclaims before resigning in protest, only the first of several such exits as domestic politics shift and shatter.

But another, less self-righteous line might finally stick better: A State Department rep accuses a CIA man of "reading too many cheesy techno-thrillers." Tongue-in-cheek? Sure. But like Thor's Hammer, that comment hits its mark.

Taylor reviews mysteries and thrillers for The Post and other publications. His own fiction appears regularly in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

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