Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dissing politically incorrect spy fiction

As Jeff Popple of the Sydney Morning Herald correctly notes, the dissolution of the USSR and the end of the Cold War forced a crisis in spy fiction. 

During the long Cold War decades, the conflict between the USSR and the West provided ready-made scenarios for spy fiction authors. This was true of politically conservative ones (like Tom Clancy) and politically liberal ones (like John LeCarre).

It wouldn't make sense today to write a novel like The Hunt for Red October or The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, unless you were deliberately writing a historical novel. Some spy fiction authors, like Alan Furst (whom Popple mentions) have done exactly that. Furst writes spy fiction novels set in the World War II and pre-WWII years.

I'm with Popple thus far. But then he adopts a completely dismissive stance toward the spy fiction of authors like Brad Thor and Vince Flynn, who write about the conflict between Islam and the West:

"Other authors responded to the "war on terrorism" by producing xenophobic, action novels in which tough, rogue CIA agents invariably prevent another terrorist outrage. 

Fortunately, a new generation of spy novelists has emerged who are more interested in moulding the genre into fresh forms that embrace the challenges of terrorism and modern geopolitics in an entertaining and thought-provoking manner."

Brad Thor and the late Vince Flynn aren't the only spy fiction authors worth mentioning. But they definitely deserved a specific mention in an essay about the "changing face of spy fiction" in the post-Cold War world. 

Instead, Popple seems to issue a self-righteous (and probably uninformed) condemnation of two of spy fiction's top-selling authors. (Thor and Flynn are the best-known authors of the post-9/11 "war on terror" spy fiction sub-genre; the reader therefore has little doubt as to whom Popple is referring.) Without actually naming them, he dismisses Thor and Flynn as "xenophobic" (and therefore unworthy of serious discussion) because he doesn't like their un-PC portrayals of Islamic militancy.

To be sure, Flynn and Thor's novels pull no punches. They don't soft-pedal the violent aspects of political Islam. 

But based on what we've seen over the past decade, why should they?

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