The Prometheus Deception
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I am giving up on yet another book, Robert Ludlum’s The Prometheus Deception. I made it to page 89 but I feel as though it is written for high schoolers who need help seeing things.  First, a synopsis of the first few pages because it is an interesting idea.  Bryson is a spook working for The Directorate, a super secret organization fighting the evil commies.  So super secret that the Presidential award he is awarded cannot be given to him, he is given only a glimpse of it.  An error happens and Bryson is put to pasture as an academic in Pennsylvania.  At first I was offended, as though academics were so easy to get into, but then it is Pennsylvania (remind me someday to tell of my experience with an education major from a tiny liberal arts school in central PA).

A few years go by and Bryson is contacted by the CIA who tell him that The Directorate was instead a KGB (or was it GRU?) front set up to recruit the best and the brightest (common knowledge in the Reagan years that we were much smarter and capable) who did not have to pose as Americans.  Bryson then goes to uncover the current workings of The Directorate.  An intereting idea, so interesting that I am fairly certain I have encountered it somewhere else.  Have I tried to read this book before and gave it up then as well?

The scene where I finally called no mas finds Bryson on a large container ship that is an arms merchant platform.  His cover is blown and he is on the run.  He runs into the engine room.  The lights are turned off and he is being pursued by four men using night vision goggles, never mind the heat from the engines ought to wreck the utility of the NVGs.  Bryson is trapped against a bulkhead and shooting blindly.  Someone else enters and shoots his pursuers dead.  The other, a woman – sacre bleu! – turns on a light and tells him to follow.  Bryson, of course, argues and tests her for it not being a trap.  A trap?  Even if it is a trap, of course it is you undercover spook, you go with her because not going with her means death.  Ludlum decides to lecture the readers with the following nonsensical exchange.

Bryson stared at the woman.

“Come on!” she called, her voice rising in desperation.  “If I wanted to kill you, I would have done so already.  I’ve got the advantage, I’ve got the infrared – not you.”

“You don’t have the the advantage now,” Bryson called back, his grip steady on his stolen weapon, lowered at his side.

“”I know this ship inside and out.  Now, if you want to stay here and play games, be my guest.  I have no choice now but to get off the ship.  Calcanis’s security force is large – there are plenty of others, probably on their way right now.”  With her free hand she pointed toward an object mounted high on one of the bulkheads near the ceiling of the generator room.  Bryson recognized it as a surveillance camera….Unlatching [a hatch cover], she glanced back and jerked her head toward the opening, signalling him to follow.

Bryson hesitated no more than a few seconds before he did so. (95)

Really?  We needed all that?  Of course not, but for some reason Ludlum thought we did.  And.  And, I had left out about a paragraph of her explaining to him how following her was his only option.  No shit. I also left out the end of the previous chapter where she is again telling him he has no option but to follow her.

There were other moments of the book, but that passage was the straw that broke my back.  I love thrillers and even mysteries but why are so many of them written with such disdain for the reader?  I think of writing as I think of TV.  Maybe the audience is fille dof mainly idiots, but that’s okay as long as the story is interesting and the writing good.  People comeback for more, they understand there are smarter people in the world and most people are fine with that.  ER was a show that proved that theory.

Here is the problem now, what to read next?  I am away from my library and I only have heady stuff left but I am in the mood for some lighter fare.  Just not Ludlum light.

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I will begin by disagreeing with David Edelstein that House of Sand and Fog (directed by Vadim Perelman, directorial debut) is not a silly movie worthy of being abandoned.  Edelstein finds it silly that the government makes a brief appearance to make the eviction that drives the movie but yet does not appear again to correct the error of the conviction.  To this reviewer that seems to be par for the course for how the legal system often works.  Edelstein loses his critical eye by believing Kathy (Jennifer Connelly, Requiem for a Dream, A Beautiful Mind) when she says it is an error.  This interpretation of the eviction is never challenged nor corroborated by the movie, yet Edelstein bases his review of the movie upon it.

I enjoyed the movie. Is it correct to ‘enjoy’ since Edelstein is correct that “it is the feel-bad movie of the year”?  It is a sad movie, marked by people doing exceptionally stupid things for which they ought to know better.  The son (Jonathan Ahdout, “24”) should have listened to his father and the sheriff (Ron Eldard, Mystery, Alaska, Black Hawk Down) should have just known better.  Other than the gaff of the sheriff though the movie seems entirely consistent with my worldview and I had this movie been poised with almost any other opponent in this cagematch it would have won.

The acting was superb, which was to be expected from this cast.  There were not many names I recognized before watching the movie (just Connelly and Kingsley, Gandhi, Sexy Beast) but as the movie rolled on I recognized more and more people.  Perelman should be proud of this effort.

Black Book (directed by Paul Verhoeven, Robocop, Showgirls) is a much better film.  I am a fan of espionage fiction and they may have been enough to tilt the scales for Black Book but I do suspect most people would agree with this evaluation.  The movie feels like a David Lean film, but without quite so many long shots.  It is the largest production in Dutch film history and at times the movie feels like an epic with no end.

Like House of Sand and Fog the moral seems to be about people being forced into situations and predicaments that they can only go along with.  Michael Wilmington says the movie demonstrates a moral relativism, but I find this reading too shallow.  It is less about moral relativism and more about the lack of a side having either a morality or amorality.  For Verhoeven people are monsters or angels, but neither the Nazis nor the Resistance can claim to be exclusively composed of either.  The monsters always act monstrously, even though some are not discovered until later as the movie is winding down, and the angels are always acting angelically, even though appearances may be deceiving.

A Jewish spy (Carice van Hauten, A Thousand Kisses) falling in love with a SS officer (Sebastian Koch, Gloomy Sunday, The Lives of Others) is not an example of moral relativism but rather of a truly kind and caring person being able to see beyond the exigencies pushing upon the person.  I am sadden at Wilmington’s error because Verhoeven goes to extreme lengths to dispel the moral relativism interpretation: the scene where the monstrous SS officer (Waldemar Kobus, “Death Train”, Lissi and the Wild Emperor) captures her and sentences her to die, but first frames her to be a relativist/opportunist is without purpose except to counter Willmington’s interpretation.

Both movies teach us the same lesson, but Black Book does a better job of it.  Black Book is also more entertaining, with more love, more explosions, more intrigue and with less waiting.  See them both, but in the binary world of the Cagematch only Black Book remains standing