Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ding, Dong, Osama's Dead

Thriller Guy is not at liberty to say whether or not he was connected with Seal Team Six in any way in the mission to take down Osama. TG can say that the U.S. Government has had an ongoing relationship with thriller writers of note in brainstorming various missions, not that this was necessarily one of them. Enough. TG can say no more.

This is not the first blog entry TG has written about Osama, but the last one has been relegated to the dust bin after the news that the world's most famous terrorist was a porn fiend, casting all of TG's jokes into a weird light. Probably just as well that it's been tossed out.

Of course TG is glad they finally nailed the bastard, but he must admit that it was all, weirdly, sort of anticlimactic. Oh, how many times has TG reviewed military thrillers where various heroes have taken on Osama. In doing so, writers have employed a number of strategies. The lag time of a novel is usually, from turn-in to publication, 18 months. During this time the manuscript/book is in a pipeline and the words cannot be easily changed. This has led to many a nail-biter as the writer waits for history to change the playing field, leaving his/her novel looking kind of silly if circumstances are radically altered. One tactic used in many of the books TG has read where Osama plays a role, is to use weird names for him, as if readers won't know whom they are referring to. I.e. Tom Clancy and Grant Blackwood in Dead or Alive have a character called The Emir, who is obviously Osama. As if they could say, (if Osama were killed before the book was published,) “We didn't mean Osama Bin Laden, this is another deadly terrorist, architect of 9/11 who is purely fictional.”

When the reports began to come in of the real attack, TG felt strangely unmoved because he has read so many fictional battle accounts that were identical down to even the smaller details. Actually, the fictional accounts were generally far more exciting and not just because there was so much more information. Really, what the SEALs needed was their old compatriot, Dick Marcinko, riding into the compound with them, supplying the quips and narrating the action. The same feeling of deja vu occurred on Sunday when TG cracked open his New York Times and saw the headline at the top of the front page on the right: “Secret Desert Force Set Up By Blackwater's Founder.” Well, duh. Snore. How many times has TG read that particular plot? Many.

In Tuesday's Washington Post, Patrick Anderson reviewed Richard North Patterson's new thriller, The Devil's Light. (In the last few weeks TG has reviewed this book, plus Matt Richtel's The Devil's Plaything and James Rollins' The Devil Colony. Time to retire the word Devil for awhile, thriller writers.) Anderson is the Post's chief thriller reviewer and the author of the excellent book, The Triumph of the Thriller: How Cops, Crooks, and Cannibals Captured Popular Fiction, a history of the modern thriller. Those of you who are writing thrillers, or planning to write them, should read this book if you haven't. Anderson tells you what is important in the genre and gives you a solid list of great books to delve into. The single most grievous error TG finds made by today's thriller writers is not the continual cliches or the knocking people out of their shoes when shot but a lack of knowledge of the genre. This is particularly true of European writers who often turn out books with plots and characters that have already been done, and usually done better, by writers on this side of the pond who have gone before.

Anderson liked, with a few quibbles, Patterson's book. TG agrees with that assessment in general. Patterson is a meticulous researcher and writer, and he has no doubt Patterson walked every foot of ground he used in the novel. In his way, he has written a book like Tom Clancy's latest using the same basic plot. Both men brought a wealth of material to the task; in Patterson's case we get lots of history and the rational behind both the good guys and the bad guys, and Clancy brought lots of great new technical gear and weapons, but both would have been better books if they had had come out several years ago when the nuclear attack by terrorists plot was fresher. TG has to wonder if these two gentlemen are keeping up their end of the research not just in trying to come up with the best detail for their novels, but in paying attention to what others in the field are doing and what has already been done. Is this fair, wishing that a novelist had worked faster, come out with a book sooner? Probably not, but fair isn't always what matters in publishing, or, for that matter, in life itself. Will it matter to the sales of these two books? Probably not a bit. Their fans will buy their books no matter when they come out, or, frankly, what they are even about. But still, TG wishes that he were not reading the same plots over and over. It's boring, even when that particular tired plot is well done. And the one sin that a thriller writer should never make, is to let the word or feeling of boredom anywhere near their work.

So, Osama is dead, and that's a really good thing for thriller writers. No longer do they have to dance around the issue of how he is used as a character. He's gone, so terrorist bad guy characters can go back to being fictional, and no one will ever again have to mention or write around that giant elephant in the room, the old man with the beard. And please, those of you who are out there gearing up what you think is a clever plot where Osama really isn't dead, that it was all a conspiracy, a set-up instigated by a secret cabal in the US government, right-wing military officers, a rogue CIA element, the Iranians, the Taliban or a twin or a double who had been playing the role of Osama for years, or a plan by Osama himself to fake his own death, or whatever, but please, don't do it! It's not clever. It's obvious.

TG is tired, oh so tired of crazed Muslim terrorists planning the big hit against the US. Evildoers who had to watch when they were children as their parents were gunned down or sisters raped or grandpas or older brothers or best friends executed by agents of the US. Terrorists who have finally got their hands on one of those old suitcase nukes the Russians sold off years ago, barrels of radioactive medical waste for dirty bombs, tons of explosives loaded onto ships that are making suicide runs into the Statue of Liberty, all those same tired plots.

TG wants something new. Wake him up. Surprise him.

Osama is dead. Time to move on.

Now, you know the tune, munchkins, sing it loud and proud:

Ding Dong! The Witch is dead. Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.
Wake up - sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead. He's gone where the goblins go,
Below - below - below. Yo-ho, let's open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know
The Wicked Witch is dead!


  1. To me, the ruthless drug cartels and their wars, the global human trafficking problems, modern slave trade, modern piracy, all are a wealth of sadly too evil real world problems that are almost too big for any one protagonist to take on, and certainly more interesting than - yawn - another terrorist plot. The more I dig into those problems it's almost overwhelming to pit a hero against the evil that dwarfs the insane antics of splinter terrorism, to document the stories of the three brothers Wallace in their own stories. If, WHEN, I ever finish their tales.

  2. Couldn't agree more, TG, and I bet there are books that will be coming out this summer that will look pretty silly given this event. Plus, some books of the last few years will now be so out-of-date or just plain wrong in their handling of Bin Laden that they will be nigh on impossible to read again... at least with a straight face.

    It's one of the reasons that I prefer to write plots that are below the headlines. The world is an ever changing place, after all. There are plenty of books out there that use an Obama-like president, which is fine at the moment, but what about when he's out of office? Those stories will be immediately dated, just as those with Bin Laden hiding out in the caves of the Hindu Kush just seem ridiculous now.

    I was told by a producer the other day that there a Katherine Bigelow film currently in production about the "failed" hunt for Bin Laden that is now being completely overhauled. Imagine how much that is costing? Ouch!

    On the note about plots though, hasn't everything been done before? And a hundred times at that. Whatever weapons the terrorists are using, whatever target they have, whatever their plan is, it boils down to the same basic plot doesn't it? I know I'm just talking about terrorists here, but are there any original plot ideas out there at all? I don't remember the last time I read a book that was utterly original. But, I suppose that's why we have genres and are fans of specific genres, because we want familiarity whilst continuously craving something new.