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Thomas Pynchon, Ron McLarty
The Best Horror of the Year Volume Five
Ellen Datlow, Laird Barron, Conrad Williams, Ramsey Campbell
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Raymond Roussel
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Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA - Susan Hasler Susan Hasler is a very bitter ex-CIA employee. She lays out her agenda in the foreword of this novel: she felt the Bush Administration ignored intelligence, concocted their own story, and turned the CIA into political apparatchiks in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in order to engineer an unnecessary war with Iraq.

Whether you agree with her assessment or not, Intelligence is a sharp, sometimes funny book but one in which the author doesn't even try to be subtle about her axe-grinding. As a veteran CIA agent, she writes about the "fictional" CIA and intelligence community with enough verisimilitude that those who are not actually familiar with how the military-intelligence complex works will be horrified and hope that she's exaggerating things, while those of us who are will groan and nod knowingly. Okay, Hasler does exaggerate a few things, but honest, folks, this is pretty much what life as a fed is like.

The plot is straightforward: terrorists plan and execute another attack, this time at a baseball stadium. Their plan is clever and fairly low-tech, something any organized, intelligent group could engineer with a little practice and preparation and not a lot of money or special equipment. In the wake of a second terrorist attack inflicting mass casualties on American soil, the Administration (not named in the book) proceeds to pin the blame on Iran and begins dismissing or destroying any evidence that suggests otherwise.

The protagonists of the novel are a group of intelligence analysts who almost, but not quite, figured out what the terrorists were planning before they did it, and are now desperately trying to get the truth out before the country goes to war with Iran.

Although Hasler's purpose in writing this book was explicitly to exercise her own demons over 9/11, she actually put out a fairly tense political thriller. In the days leading up to the attack, we wait to see whether or not it will actually go off, and after it does, we see the main characters battling their bosses, the intelligence agency, and Congress, all of whom are against them.

The writing is only average, as is the plot, but the characters were quite human and exactly the sort of people you'd meet working career fedgov jobs. You want to believe CIA analysts are these super-sharp geniuses with supercomputers at their command, like you see on TV, but really they're just normal folks with kids and mortgages and tons of baggage, and going in to work to stop terrorists tends to become just like any other office job... except when things go wrong.

Regardless of your political views, you'll probably find much of the book disconcerting, and you may want to project your politics onto the author's message in terms of who's to blame, but the fact is, these games play out this way regardless of which party is in power.