Jul 21 29 2021

The Plot

by Jean Hanff Korelitz

This is a very strange book, almost a thriller and almost a mystery, but not quite.

Jacob Finch Bonner teaches writing at an inferior low-residency MFA program in Vermont. His first novel was mildly successful; his short story collection was not, and now he is badly blocked and dispirited. His students are unpromising, and one of this year’s students is an annoying, arrogant jerk. The first chapter’s of this jerk’s projected novel are, if not very good, not terrible. Bonner tries to offer good advice, but the annoying student tells him not to bother: the plot of this novel is so good, he doesn’t need writing tips. The student is insufferable — but right.

It’s a good premise, and the execution is not bad. One difficulty is that Jake is a dolt. It’s like watching a slasher movie: one is constantly shouting at the protagonist, “No! Don’t do that!” This isn’t played for laughs; it's entirely earnest. It’s not bad.

by Eliot Ackerman and James Stavridis

A retired admiral indulges in strange, sentimental daydreams of noble soldiers and perfidious policy-makers. All high-ranked civilian officials are stupid, ineffectual, or treasonous. Every soldier and sailor is noble. This book is a recipe, and excuse, for the sort of coup that Trump attempted and for which his supporters still dream.

All speculations on future warfare rest on sand, but this one is often ridiculous. “They have better cyber!” is the problem, and that can be interesting: Tom Clancy did that in Debt Of Honor, his entertaining if implausible effort to imagine a second war between the US and Japan. Here, apparently, someone in China presses a button and nothing works: it neutralizes every communication system in three Aegis destroyers (and every US satellite) just like that. Everything else, too: the destroyers never get off a shot.

The US solution? Tear out the avionics in their fighter planes so everyone can use WW2 tech and fly by the seat of their pants.

Oh — and someone else, it turns out, has even better offensive cyber capability than the Chinese do.

This is an admiral’s book. The lowest-ranked individual with a speaking part is a single chief petty officer who is always on hand — in the radio room, on the flight deck, in CIC. We never learn the name of the President. We never meet China’s civilian leaders. We contrive to break an Iranian brigadier general and make him a lieutenant commander in the Iranian Navy because establishing a new character would be too much work.