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Greg Bear – QuanticoHere's a previously published review of Quantico, a near-future SF thriller on Bioterror, and the FBI special agents chasing the terrorists, by Greg Bear, which I found to be a captivating read – part thriller, part military/police procedural, part hard/biological sf; all parts well executed.

Quantico is cop Valhalla. They say good cops go there when they die. Every day you solve crimes, make arrests, study hard, work out, do target practice, and at the end of the day you get together with your fellow agents in the boardroom, swig back some beers, and laugh. Hardly anybody gets hurt, nobody locks their doors, everyone knows the rules, and the bad guys always lose.
Just like real live, then…

William Griffin is at Quantico, the FBI training centre that gives the novel its name. He is about to graduate, and he is struggling with areas (killing people?) that his father, a former Navy Seal and now FBI Special Agent (SA) also does/did struggle with. But after his father shoots Robert ‘Bob’ Chambers, a bank robber, abortion clinic bomber, expert in IED (improvised explosive devices, ie booby traps and such), member of the Aryan Church of Christ Militant, and long-term fugitive from about any agency under the sun he has to watch, on FBI internal ‘bombnet’ video network, how his father is blown up by one of Chambers bombs while he tries to secure the former Patriarch’s farm.
A turning point in young William’s live. He is rushed from the Academy, and teamed up with Rebecca Rose, SA, a driven loner who has spent years on the track of the ‘Ameritrax’ terrorist(s) – remember the Anthrax scares in the US Postal system etc after 9/11? Same ones.

Meanwhile, one of his class mates named Fouad Al-Husam, a muslim, is taken into service by the mysterious and secretive BuDark agency, and put to work on clandestine undercover work in the near east. Anthrax has been encountered in several places, and has been found to be of the same strain as the Ameritrax one, but genetically enhanced since. A hot lead, and a scary one. But things get hotter, and scarier, from there…

The book plays in an utterly recognizable near-future, after 9/11, plus another, not clearly specified large-scale terrorist attack with mass casualties referred to as 10/04. The world is still stuck in the same madness as today – the US is meddling with the power structures in the near east again, this time bankrolling counter-revolutionary forces to oust the Saudi Royal family (no indication how they fell from grace in the period in-between today and the time the book plays at). Bio weapons are becoming more ubiquitous; Iran has nukes (book published in 2005, written, obviously, before recent developments – scarily prescient!).  The political security wrangles have increased both internationally as well as US-internally, and the number of competing security agencies has kept growing. The various agencies, bureaus, groups etc are referred to as ‘ Alphabet soup’ – a short skim through the pages yielded FBI, BDI, NSA, Homeland Security, BuDark, CIA, ATFC, and that’s just a part of the total…
The technology in the book is totally believable and directly extrapolated from today’s – agents are wired up on a grid which tracks their location and vital signs, they carry ‘slates’ which allow them to place phone calls, access resources, and browse the web securely from wherever they are, and patrol cars have intelligence systems that will analyze what’s happening to the cars (ie driving patterns etc) and call for backup automatically.

Greg Bear (Son-in-law of Poul Anderson!) is the author of 26 books to date, his latest effort, ‘City at the End of Time’, is scheduled for release in April 2007. He’s at home in a number of genres – Quantico is a Thriller first and foremost, it is hard SF, it is biological/genetic sf, it is military/police sf, and it’s a fascinating take on Religion and religious fanaticism. Despite a lot of this not being my kettle of fish (I don’t really take to thrillers, and usually despise military sf) I have to say that this book is a compelling read with a great drive, a fascinating story, and several unexpected plot reversals – in short, the work of someone who knows what he’s doing. It’s also scary – the threat is very realistic and real-world and I noticed that the book has made me slightly squeamish, and has changed minor personal habits linked to infection vectors… AFAIK that’s a first!
The science and the environment the book plays in is very well researched – this applies to the overall topic, the technology, but especially to the slang the various players and groups use (actually, I can’t judge if it’s realistic, but if it’s not then the author did a damn good and believable job faking it!).

Recommendation? Get the book, read it, unless the military/police setting is a major turn-off (I might, to my loss, not have read this if I hadn’t got the book as a review copy…).

More Greg Bear

Title: Quantico
Author: Greg Bear
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Publisher URL: http://www.harpercollins.co.uk
Publication Date: 2005
Review Date: 16 December 2006
ISBN: 0007129785
Pages: 439
Format: Hardback
Topic: Thriller
Topic: SF
Topic: Bioterror

 

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