Posts Tagged ‘The Ragnarök Conspiracy’

The Ragnarök Conspiracy by Erec Stebbins

September 5, 2012 5 comments

The Ragnarök Conspiracy by Erec Stebbins (Seventh Street Books, 2012) is interesting because it’s a book written by an American after 9/11 which deals with international terrorism and the relationship between an aggrieved Christian country and Islam in all its shades of belief. I think it would be fair to characterise the American view of terrorists as bloodthirsty fanatics. This is problematic because the moment you stop thinking of any group of people as being rational and only see their actions as anarchic, the response is not to talk with relevant leaders but to strike out to destroy those you believe responsible for disrupting society. History shows that the use of violence reinforces a violent response as the families of people killed take up the fight and find increasing support in the communities around them. This is ironic because America was prepared to discuss peace with the “guerrillas” in Vietnam and subsequently to stand as honest brokers in British discussions with the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. A blanket policy towards those classified as terrorists is not constructive. I suppose it’s possible to justify an aggressive response to Al Qaeda because this group has a strong commitment to armed struggle. But it’s not a helpful approach to international diplomacy to stigmatise all the followers of Islam by pointing to one small group. About one-quarter of the Earth’s population is Islamic.

So what do we have here? As is always required, we have a very well-organised group out to provoke war between the Christian and Islamic worlds. Although this plan is to some extent a matter of revenge for the 9/11 attack, there’s a more general intention to burn down all the old structures so that new growth can occur. This is more interesting than usual. In most tired potboilers, the “terrorists” see their side as the probable winners. This group has adopted Norse mythology as their political philosophy. In this belief system, Ragnarök was intended to be the final battle between good and evil. But unlike other events foretold, this would see all the Norse Gods lose. In the resulting chaos, new societies would emerge to be enjoyed by others, i.e. assuming the Norse Gods were the good guys, they were deliberately sacrificing themselves because they believed the greater good would be served by destroying their own world order. This is almost pure anarchism in its intention to destroy leadership and social organisations, whether at state or lower levels.

Erec Stebbins growing a beard to look intellectual

Lining up against them is the usual dysfunctional combination of US government agencies who keep secrets from each other, are terrified of falsely accusing high-profile people, and are generally paper-pushers who hope it will all be over before anyone notices how ineffective they were. But, squatting in the midst of this morass of incompetence are one or two spectacular individuals who can save the world despite their bosses best efforts to stop them. The two key people, appropriately, are an FBI agent called John Savas and a CIA operative called Husaam Jordan. One is a wavering Christian and the other a devout Moslem. What better combination could there be to save the world?

In books like this, the question is not really whether the conspiracy and the attempts to stop it are credible. As is always the case, bombs will be detonated and bullets will kill. The body count will rise while the forces of good struggle to find a lead on who might be responsible. When the breakthrough comes, there will be a climatic battle, “good” will triumph, the world will draw back from the brink and all the survivors will heave a sigh of relief. This is the standard narrative for all counter-espionage or anti-terrorist thrillers. The key to success comes through creating credible characters and generating pace in the storytelling. Assuming no science fiction or supernatural elements, the heroes can have significantly better than average skills. Some will be allowed to fight or shoot better than average, some will have great IT skills (often being proficient hackers), some will be highly intuitive, and so on. Complete realism is not required so long as supersizing is not taken too far. Alternatively, a more satirical approach can permit the heroes to have absurd levels of skill(s).

In this instance, all the key players are talented and physically vulnerable. They are variously wounded and some are killed. This is as it should be if a highly professional group undertakes the assassination of all who pose a threat to the success of the conspiracy. However, I’m not very impressed by John Savas. The attempts to give depth to his character are clichéd and, if I were to meet him in the flesh, I would find him rather annoying. He’s one of these tightly-wound individuals, still suffering stress from the death of his son in 9/11, and reliant on intuitive, not to say speculative, leaps to connect apparently random events. The fact he proves correct does not make him credible. That would require him to be more coherent in rationalising how and why his suspicions are correct. In this respect, Husaam Jordan is a better character because he’s presented as a stereotypical agent with the usual noble and self-sacrificing approach to shooting his way out of trouble and, if required, breaking into secure buildings to access the information he needs. He’s not into the chain of command. He’s a doer without waiting for search warrants or rules of engagement on when to shoot.

The Ragnarök Conspiracy is a potentially excellent thriller. There are some good ideas underpinning the plot. But one of the two central characters is not terribly convincing and the prose itself is a little wooden. That said, it’s quite an impressive first novel and, with a little more guidance from the editorial staff, Erec Stebbins could become someone to watch. So read this if you enjoy a fast-moving thriller that gives a clear insight into how one American author is reacting to the trauma of the 9/11 attack.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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