The Execution Channel Paperback – Jun 10 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With an adroit combination of paranoid spy thriller tricks and SF gadgetry, MacLeod (Learning the World) depicts a near future that may or may not be our own, when 9/11 and the Iraq war were followed by war with Iran, a flu pandemic and terrorist attacks, and the West teeters on the brink of an all-out nuclear exchange. James Travis, a Scottish software engineer whose hatred for the U.S. has driven him to spy for France, and his daughter, Roisin, a young peace activist, have both witnessed horrendous acts of terrorism, most recently the apparent nuclear bombing of an airbase in Scotland. Nothing is what it seems, however. Government agents use the Internet to spread sophisticated disinformation, but are still perfectly willing to fall back on torture when necessary. Meanwhile, the Execution Channel, a rogue media outlet, broadcasts actual footage of various murders and executions 24-7. Dizzying plot twists and a variety of fascinating, believable technological breakthroughs make this perhaps MacLeod's most compulsively readable novel to date. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In a post-9/11 world just around the corner, attacks on American soil have been followed in horrific succession by a flu pandemic, war against Iran, and an escalating wave of executions throughout the world that are televised daily on a pirate channel. Now what is apparently a tactical nuclear weapon has been detonated on an American-occupied air base in Scotland. While conducting spying operations for French intelligence, British citizen James Travis immediately becomes a terror suspect, as does his daughter, peace activist Roisin, because of carrying illicit photos of the weapon before it exploded. A multilayered story line alternates Travis' efforts to evade UK authorities, Roisin's capture and interrogation, and a propaganda war between a clandestine disinformation team and a notorious Internet blogger seeking the truth hidden in a spiderweb of spin. A master of politically charged sf, MacLeod channels our contemporary preoccupation with terrorism into an engulfing stream of espionage and international intrigue. Although the occasional sf trope may baffle genre outsiders, McLeod's speculative thriller ought to grab political junkies and spy fiction buffs as well as his sf fans. Hays, Carl
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It's a depressing story. The world has gone to the dogs, and lies are weapons of mass distraction that the governments use to obscure their dirty work. When a series of terrorist attacks cripples Britain after a nuclear detonation over a Scottisch airbase, the lies are so thick on the ground you never quite know if the terrorists are Al-Qaeda, someone pretending to be Al-Qaeda, someone run by Al-Qaeda, or all of the above. It's our world as it is today, but worse. And yes, it can get worse. Easily.
I'll tell you what this novel is not. It's not preachy; it's indignant. Important difference. It's also not leftie Bush-bashing. It's an angry novel about people being afraid of their government, rather than the other way around.
It made me angry. It's also MacLeod's angriest novel since "The Star Fraction" and I, for one, welcome the return of that anger, that justified distaste at the state of the world. I've enjoyed all his novels inbetween that first one and this, his latest one, but they were popcorn compared to the more substantial fare offered here.
It's a great novel. It should make you angry too.
The novel kicks off with an apparent nuclear explosion on a Scottish air base, followed by a series of bombings that destroy oil refineries and heavily traveled highway overpasses throughout the UK. Among those caught up in the chaos are IT professional James Travis and his peace activist daughter Roisin. Travis is a man so disillusioned with his country that he opts to spy for France. As we are told,
"He had no special regard for France. The thing he liked about France was that it was French. The thing he hated about England was that it wasn't English. This had nothing to do with race or religion or nation or politics, as far as he could see. ... At some point England had simply failed itself." (p. 201)
For Travis, his sense of England's failure is linked both due to his wife's death in a flu epidemic, which he attributes to government negligence (shades of Katrina), and also to "the hollow justifications for the attack on Iran which he'd been so sure that the [House of] Commons would see through," and the lack of public protest when they didn't. Mostly, though, his decision to spy was based on anger at "being kept in the dark" by the government. "You keep me in the dark? Very well, I will walk in darkness and strike in darkness."
This thread of the novel is indeed dark; Travis efforts may have inadvertently facilitated the bombings, and his daughter's efforts to get out the truth--to dispel the darkness--about the initial explosion get her tortured and come close to starting a war. Worse, both of them contribute to the institutionalized government paranoia that leads to the torture and murder of Roisin's brother Alec.
On the other hand, what makes the novel a good read are the efforts of Travis, Roisin, and an American blogger named Mark Dark to outwit the authorities, discover the truth, and deliver it to the public. There are chase scenes, ingenious disguises, and clever subterfuges that fool, at least for a time, the ever-more-powerful governmental technologies of surveillance (omnipresent CCTV, face recognition software, credit tracking, GPS in cell phones, quick DNA testing, etc.). Particularly amusing is the interplay between a U.S. government contractor hired to spread disinformation about the U.K. attacks, and Mark Dark, a racist (he calls Muslims "sand Nazis") kid who blogs out of his mother's basement. Amusingly, the contractor is never told what the truth is and could easily hit upon it by accident.
Although MacLeod is clearly a Lefty -- I think it's safe to call him a Left-Libertarian -- he makes an effort here to simply be an advocate for what most Brits and Americans think their countries should stand for. They shouldn't launch wars against countries that haven't attacked them, or torture people, or detain people indefinitely without charge, or lie as a matter of government policy. He doesn't blame the Americans for everything, as some have charged; the American authorities may be nastier and more brutish than the British, but the Brits are equally short-sighted and equally responsible for what happens. Neither does he place the blame specifically on Bush or on particular political parties; he doesn't excuse anybody. He may be, like his character Travis, genuinely puzzled about how we came to this pass.
The reasons to read this book even if you don't like MacLeod's politics are (a) even though it is far from MacLeod's best novel (I would pick THE STAR FRACTION), it is MacLeod's best written to date, and (b) because it is entertaining, with good action, a sympathetic central character in Roisin, and a keep-'em-guessing mystery. The dénouement, which is surprising and difficult-to-swallow (or even make sense of). I would recommend it to fans without hesitation and to the rest of the world with minor reservations.
One last note: This novel does not read as if it was written for Americans. It wasn't. If you're not willing to look up how "Roisin" is pronounced (it's an Irish name, pronounced "Rosheen") or research what "fnar fnar" means ("har har," essentially), or if you think that anything that happens in Scotland is beneath your notice, don't read this book.
***spoiler warning*** Macleod also telegraphs the end by too much discussion of James Blish's "spindizzies". That particular homage should have been saved until the end.
The execution channel itself is very much a device for the author's convenience and I wish he'd found some other method of achieving the same end because the scene in the pub with the MI5 agent Smith stretches credulity. Unless of course Smith arranged it all...hmmm.
These quibbles aside - and they are quibbles - the book is a great read, believable characters, with believable motivations, good use of borderline science [my favourite kind] and also real technologies, a convincing take on current geo-politics, some obvious real-world experience with fringe politics, and some real insight into the world of conspiracy theories and spy tradecraft.
I now feel confident in my ability to evade all of you who are following and watching...
The Execution Channel
"1984" has one protagonist. "The Execution Channel" is so chock full of characters, it is difficult to determine which character to bond with. "1984" is written in straightforward language. "The Execution Channel" has the prissy English so adored by the British literati and McCleod peppers his writings with obtuse alphabetical abbreviations known only to those living in the UK.
There are simply too many characters to remember, too many scenes to link together, too much information to digest in the rush to a conclusion. Then, the conclusion is so wild, it boggles the imagination.
Other reviewers have remarked that "The Execution Channel" is a return to McCleod's "anger" without specifying what they mean. If by that, they refer to the idea of misinformation driving history, this idea is somewhat far-fetched. There are many contemporary books based on the premise that misinformation causes in wars or near wars. Among these are "TSAR" by Alex Hawke.
The whole storyline of "The Execution Channel" was much too much for me. I finished it but only with difficulty.