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CIA satirical novel - Input Junkie
December 30th, 2010
10:32 am

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CIA satirical novel
Intelligence by Susan Hasler is a hybrid bitter insider's look at being an analyst at the CIA and a romantic comedy.

Maddy is shell-shocked from not having the resources or trust to pursue leads that warned of 9/11, and now there are hints that a new major terrorist attack is getting developed. Furthermore , her horrible narcissistic mother has moved in with her and is driving her crazy.

The office politics are extremely plausible. The viewpoint of a terrorist not so much, and I have a tentative theory about why. The thing is, we get told about his miserable background and his ideological motivations (credit goes to the author for not including 72 virgins), but it seems generic. My experience is that people have something of a personal relationship with their ideologies-- they know who's influenced them and even if they're not involved in faction fights, they at least know more about the divisions than any but the most dedicated outsiders have ever heard of. All of that is missing.

The gender stuff is interesting, and I'm curious about what you guys think of this bit: All hell has broken loose in a way that involves the death of some children (I'm not calling this a spoiler-- anything resembling a normal novel which has an imminent terrorist attack will have a terrorist attack), and the female analysts are full of shock, horror, and rage. One of the male analysts is humming the Andy Griffith theme song, and a woman asks him how he can be happy. (From memory)--he says "This is the great war of my generation, and this is the front line. How can I want to be anywhere else?".

On the whole, I liked the book with a couple of caveats. All the fat characters are obnoxious. As might be expected, there is a coercive interrogation which is of a hateworthy person, produces reliable information, and has no unwanted side effects.

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From:malkingrey
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
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One of the male analysts is humming the Andy Griffith theme song, and a woman asks him how he can be happy. (From memory)--he says "This is the great war of my generation, and this is the front line. How can I want to be anywhere else?".

Maybe I'm failing Girl again (I do that a lot), but the reaction doesn't seem that unusual to me. You get it in adrenaline junkies of all genders, I think . . . it's not that they want the bad stuff, whatever it is, to be happening, but if it has to be happening they're glad that they're one of the people dealing with it. EMS providers can have the same attitude toward messy trauma scenes, for example.

I'm not convinced it's a bad thing, either. In an emergency, I think I'd a lot sooner rely upon somebody who's enjoying himself and knows what he's doing than upon somebody equally knowledgeable who may or may not be judgment-compromised out of shock. The world needs all kinds.

(A possibly related remark, from Himself: "Storms at sea are a great deal of fun, provided you aren't actively sinking at the time" -- this in regard to a storm off the Virginia Capes that took out the ship's radio room and knocked a hole in the ship's side just above Forward Officer Berthing.)
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
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I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing either, but unless I missed something, the book presents it as gendered, so your answer is interesting.

The book presents it as shocking rather than bad. You've been in the heads of people who are horrified, and then this different (and at least equally useful) reaction is like having cold water dumped on your head. At least in the book, no one has anything to say to him.
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From:chickenfeet2003
Date:December 30th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
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I remember having a drink with a female Lt/Col at the Staff College in Toronto who was furious that she hadn't been posted to Afghanistan post Staff and Command course.
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From:thnidu
Date:December 31st, 2010 04:21 am (UTC)
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What this brings up from my own experience is considerably different, and yet feels somehow relevant. Quoting now from an f-locked post in which I quoted, by permission, a letter my dear dunkelpig wrote to her friends:
We drove Daughter to a friend's house in NYC on Thursday. ...

The car's rear driver's side tire blew out suddenly and completely on I-95 in Philadelphia, just about the same place, but on the opposite side of the highway, that [Dunkelpig's friend]'s car died on our way home from NYC last month. I got the car to the side of the highway, then up a nearby exit ramp to a shoulder area in front of a stop sign, where thnidu could change to the compact spare, which Jim, our mechanic, had made sure was fully inflated a couple of weeks ago. All of us sometime complain about thnidu singing constantly, and Daughter has been irritated by his swearing at his computer (I tell him to switch from Windows to Mac. It markedly improves one's life).

So Daughter was rather bemused when thnidu, lying on the side of the road in 95 degree heat, efficiently changed the tire in 15 minutes, while explaining to her what he was doing, and singing "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat". He only fusses about minor inconveniences; serious problems have to be dealt with calmly and efficiently.
Of course there's a world of difference between a terrorist attack that kills innocents including children, and an accidental car breakdown that could have been calamitous and dangerous, even deadly, but wasn't. But I see something similar in that analyst's delighted absorption in doing his task, and mine in doing mine.

Edited at 2010-12-31 04:25 am (UTC)
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From:redneckgaijin
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:37 pm (UTC)
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This is the great war of my generation, and this is the front line. How can I want to be anywhere else?

If the character who said this, in this particular circumstance, is portrayed as anything other than a raging dick, I for one would throw the entire book away.

On the whole, I liked the book with a couple of caveats. All the fat characters are obnoxious. As might be expected, there is a coercive interrogation which is of a hateworthy person, produces reliable information, and has no unwanted side effects.

These caveats certainly don't increase my desire to read said book at all.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 30th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
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If you're sensitized to the coercive interrogation issue[1], I'd like any recommendations you've got for fiction where either there would be a slot for such, but the characters don't use it and/or it's attempted and the side effects are plausible.

The book was a net win for me, but I put in caveats precisely so that people for whom they'd be deal-breakers won't read it.

[1] I don't have strong enough words for what I think of Bolt, an animated movie for children. The viewpoint character (a dog who thinks he's still in a tv show when he's actually out in the real world) extracts information from a cat (set up to be hated by the audience because she's running a protection racket on pigeons) by threatening to drop her off a bridge.

We get a nod to plausibility because he's demanding information she doesn't have, so they head off in random directions. However, she eventually forgives him without the fact that he threatened to kill her even being brought up.
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From:redneckgaijin
Date:December 30th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
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It's not a specific sensitivity to coercive interrogation.

It's that the three points put together- the positive portrayal of coercive interrogation, the (presumably sympathetic) character who's happy about innocent civilians dying because now he gets to be in a war, and all-fat-people-are-evil- add up to, in my mind, a hack writing an apologia for the Bush-era CIA under the guise of fiction.

Which is not a book, in any form, I want to read.
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From:nancylebov
Date:December 30th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC)
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Fair enough. You don't need to read it.

I'd say the apologia isn't for the whole CIA. It's a claim that there were competent people who were blocked by their bosses inside and outside of the agency.
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From:thnidu
Date:December 31st, 2010 04:37 am (UTC)
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the (presumably sympathetic) character who's happy about innocent civilians dying because now he gets to be in a war

From the brief description, I don't see at all that he's "happy about innocent civilians dying".

To bring in an analogy that is practically hammering at the doors of my mind: My wife has undergone emergency surgery to save her life, and subsequent operations to keep her alive. I would not say that a surgeon who hums while he's working is happy that the patient is in serious shape, but may well be finding satisfaction in being able to help that patient.

Perhaps even more to the point, this character is not a combatant but an analyst. A researcher in (to take a non-random example) cancer may take great delight in his or work, especially when finding a set of data, or an unsuspected connection between different facts, that may lead to better treatments or even prevention.

But neither of us has more than a smidgeon or snippet of information about that particular character and his remark, so both our reactions to it should be taken salis cum granō.

OTOH, though with the same caveat, your summary guess about the whole book sounds quite plausible to me.
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From:redneckgaijin
Date:December 31st, 2010 04:55 am (UTC)
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What I take from the brief description is that this is a person who, just having witnessed mass murder of innocents, is cheerfully whistling a jaunty tune and thinking solely of how lucky he is that there is a war.

I have no use for any book that presents such a person as a positive character.
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From:ashnistrike
Date:January 2nd, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
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If you're sensitized to the coercive interrogation issue, I'd like any recommendations you've got for fiction where either there would be a slot for such, but the characters don't use it and/or it's attempted and the side effects are plausible.

Criminal Minds is consistently responsible on the issue - de-mythologizing violence is sort of their thing. (You may already know about that one.) Shadow Unit continues with the theme.

-Nameseeker
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From:sashajwolf
Date:December 31st, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
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"This is the great war of my generation, and this is the front line. How can I want to be anywhere else?"

I think many of the soldiers I grew up around in the last decade of the Cold War would have reacted that way if it had turned hot. It's what they trained for, and in a way, it would have been a relief to be able to get on with it rather than the endless waiting and worrying. They were expecting innocents to die in large numbers; they'd done their adjusting in advance.

To be honest, I'd be more surprised if most of the female analysts didn't have that reaction than if most of the male ones did.
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