Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

The downside is that there are no Middle Eastern terrorists in this one, and Asad “The Lion” Khalil is just a memory whose name gets brought up a couple of times by our old friend, protagonist John Corey.

John Corey is one of those characters who I get a kick out of in print or on screen, but who I would stay far away from in real life. He’s a police officer cum federal agent who never follows a rule that isn’t absolutely convenient. Yet his abrasive humor is sometimes funny, and I like funny.

The name of the book does not derive from the seventies song that has something to do with a horse. It’s supposedly the code name of an ultra super secret government program. Remember how, during the cold war, supposedly the USSR wouldn’t nuke the US because if they did, we’d nuke them right back? This was the principle of deterrence, or as DeMille calls it over and over again in the book, mutually assured destruction. Remember how Dr Strangelove made fun of this concept?

Wild Fire in the book is a supposedly current government program wherein the US has supposedly warned all the corrupt governments of the “Land of Islam” that if any weapon of mass destruction is used against the United States, the United States will automatically launch dozens of nukes against basically the whole Muslim world.

You can probably see flaws already. There’s the fact that we’d probably miss hitting anybody actually involved with the attack, that it might not have been Muslim terrorists in the first place, that we’d kill hundreds of millions of innnocents, that millions would be non-Muslims, anyway, that remaining Muslims would still be around and able to seek vengeance, that governments of Muslims countries can’t necessarily prevent a small band of determined bad guys from carrying out a terrorist attack (after all, we couldn’t), that irreplaceable wildlife and historical artifacts would be destroyed forever, etc.

Sure, you can see those flaws, but apparently most of the characters in this book can’t. Nor can the author, who mentions in an author’s note at the beginning of the book, “I personally believe that some variation of Wild Fire (by another code name) actually exists, and if it doesn’t, it should.”

The funniest thing of all is that most of the characters in the book who think Wild Fire is a good idea are motivated by their desire not to be wanded at the airport. Not to say that any of them ever have been. In fact, it’s very unlikely that any one of them has ever been inconvenienced in flying, since they are a megabillionaire, a couple of military generals, a presidential advisor, a CIA agent, and John Corey. And I think a good, baseline rule of humanity is that if you are willing to have hundreds of millions die, many of them in a really horrible ways, so that you don’t have to maybe get wanded at the airport someday, you need to immediately kill yourself.

DeMille cleverly explains how such an asinine program ever could have come to be: it was started during the Reagan years.

Now, the main antagonist, the megabillionaire, is insane. So that makes sense. It doesn’t explain why so many other characters also think that Wild Fire is a hunky-dory idea. Maybe the fact that they refer to “The Land of Islam” as “Sandland” repeatedly is a clue. It’s as if they see it as a cartoony place that nobody ever goes except people who dress funny and eat funny food. But no, they all do take time to reflect that a massive nuclear attack on “The Land of Islam” would kill millions of non-Muslims along with all those bad, bad Muslims who are all responsible for terrorism everywhere in the world. But hey, shorter lines at the airport.

DeMille, having stated that he hopes we have a system to automatically launch nukes at “The Land of Islam” in case we are attacked with WMD, nevertheless cheerfully thanks a Bob Atiyeh in the Acknowledgements. “Sure Nelson, no hard feelings about your desire to obliterate my homeland.”

DeMille wrote the book wrong. He should have had everyone sane and rational except for the bad guy. Instead, he had the presidential advisor, the generals, and the CIA man all on board with the nutcase’s plan from the get-go. Except for the CIA guy, you’d expect all of them know better than to buy any of this:

Even when the United States was attacked on its own soil–the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center–we did nothing. He looked at Harry. “Correct?”
“Yeah…but that changed things–“

Did nothing? We caught the perpetrators and put them in jail, where the are now.

“…Wild Fire is a pro-active response. It is a gun to the heads of Islamic countries–a gun that will go off if they fail to keep their terrorist friends from going nuclear. Undoubtedly most, if not all, terrorist organizations have been warned of this by the Islamic governments that harbor, aid, and have contact with them…”

Neat. All terrorist organizations, besides being Islamic, are also harbored and aided by Islamic governments, their friends. That’s why Wild Fire works!

And here’s his answer to the question of the environmental impact of dozens of nukes:

“I told you, the answer to global warming is nuclear winter. Just kidding. Look, the effects of fifty or even a hundred nuclear explosions detonating across the Mideast have been studied extensively by the government. It won’t be that bad.”

Hey, that puts my worries to rest.

This guy here has a review of the book from back in January 2007, not long after it first came out. You have to scroll down a ways to get to it.

Naturally, Madox is a right-wing nut — what would American fiction writers do without the standard right-wing nut? — but John Corey is something of a right-wing nut himself. For that matter, one has to wonder the same thing about DeMille himself, since in his foreword, speaking in his own voice, DeMille candidly says that he hopes a plan like Wild Fire exists.

Really? A plan to respond to the destruction of an American city by killing a hundred million Muslims all over the world? I suppose DeMille really means that he hopes we have told the heads of the governments of Muslim countries that such a plan exists, so they’ll keep a tight rein on the terrorists that operate in so many Islamic countries.

But to really carry out such a plan would be a monstrous crime against humanity on a par with Hitler’s and Stalin’s and Pol Pot’s. Especially since some Islamic terror groups are so fanatical that they might accept the deaths of a few hundred million Muslims as an acceptable risk — betting, of course, that the United States would never actually make good such a threat.

Bonus:

I do wish, however, that writers like DeMille would stop using the pathetically lame device of trying to persuade us that a couple of lovers (or a husband and wife) are really really really in love, by explicitly showing them having sex in some weird circumstance. In Wild Fire, it’s lovemaking on a Long Island beach in icy weather; apparently DeMille thinks it’s extremely significant to their characterization that we know who’s on top and other details.

And yet somehow we manage to get by without knowing which hand they use to hold the toilet paper, so DeMille must know there are some intimate details we just don’t need to know. Come on, my fellow novelists, don’t throw in meaninglessly detailed sex scenes — if it doesn’t tell us something that matters to the story, then get over it. You’re not twelve years old anymore, faunching over the Sears catalog, and nowadays explicit sex in fiction is a trite waste of time.

Word.

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1 Comment

Filed under books, domestic terrorism

One response to “Wild Fire by Nelson DeMille

  1. Good God, I don’t even remember reading this book anymore. Sounds amazing.

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