Nemesis and the Deus Ex Machina

Today I am going to follow up my review of Heroes Proved with a few thoughts on the ending. This post will be specific and spoiler-heavy – not a review for those who haven’t read the book, but commentary for those who have.

While I was looking at the Amazon reviews, I saw one that complained that “the story is resolved through deus ex machina–Air Force One crashing into a lake.” On one level, this is hard to argue with. The terrorist attack that brought down Air Force One came out of nowhere; nothing in the book struggled against it, or for it. It also abruptly eliminated the broader importance of Martin Cohen’s rescue, at just the time he was rescued.

Yet the terrorist attack was not a deus ex machina in that it solved a dilemma that could have readily been solved ten other ways. Oliver North could have raised a Nemesis for the president from the story he had spent three hundred pages telling: Martin Cohen and his captors, the listening ears of Frances James, the Newman clan, the president’s own crimes and interminable intrigues.

All of them could have given the president an end. None of them could have given her an end as complete and dramatic as Air Force One crashing into Lake Erie.

And there were practical benefits. The terrorist attack was the sort of catastrophe that allows a nation to reset – and with that hopeful possibility, the dystopian Heroes Proved ends. Nor was the president dying by terrorism merely expedient; it was also a kind of grim justice, a poisonous reaping of her own poisonous sowing.

Nemesis is a goddess, and the pagan gods were always capricious. Yet she came as a response, a cosmic reaction to human causes. In the same way, the ending of Heroes Proved is not strictly a carry-though of the story’s logic, but there’s a certain cause-and-effect to it.

Caprice, it must be admitted, is generally inartistic in a novel. In fact, it almost always is. It can be interesting anyway. Heroes Proved, in its sudden end, did not reward the heroes’ efforts enough, or follow its own logic closely enough, to be satisfying in a classical way. But it is satisfying in a more obscure way; Nemesis usually is.

Review: Heroes Proved

What will the world be like in twenty years? A mess, you’ll say. But will it be as big a mess as having a nuclear ayatollah in Tehran, a Caliph ruling Jerusalem, and a Mafia-style president in the Oval Office?

Heroes Proved is Oliver North’s fourth military thriller. I began it directly after reading a dystopian novel called Swipe, and I soon came to feel I had gone from one dystopian novel to another. If a team of conservatives were to construct their perfect nightmare, it would look much like the America, and world, of Heroes Proved.

This book cuts across many genres: Primarily an action novel, but also a techno-thriller with a dystopian slant and social commentary. A religious element is peppered, plain and unashamed, throughout the narrative. Alongside it, there is a thick strand of political intrigue. The president, though often appearing, is never named; in Oliver North’s books, the president is mentioned frequently, but never by name.

But the president in Mission Compromised who loathed the military, pulled out of Somalia, and ran a chronically disorganized White House was a lot like Bill Clinton. The president in Assassins who was as punctual as a Marine, known for his time in the gym, who had a Defense secretary named Dan and a political advisor named Carl Rose – well, that wasn’t hard to figure out.

In Heroes Proved, the “Madam President” whose husband was president before her, who was often rude or demeaning to staff, with a subordinate named Vic Foster who suffered an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head – she is … Hillary Clinton, in an alternative universe.

Much of the interest and even fun of Heroes Proved is in tracing the connections to real life. The book may be properly labeled speculative. It is always asking, “What if, in the future …” What if America repressed free speech in the name of tolerance and fairness? What if Iran goes nuclear? What if a new Caliphate is established?

All these projections of current events are interesting. Noticing that Larry Walsh, the Madam President’s corrupt counsel, was also the name of the special prosecutor in the Iran-contra scandal is merely fun.

Considered on its proficiency as a novel, Heroes Proved would be marked a few demerits. The dialogue is not always entirely believable. The prose, although cleanly written and efficient to its purpose, has little beauty. (But then, does anyone read military thrillers for literary beauty?) The hero’s journey is started but never properly finished.

Even so, Heroes Proved is an exciting book and, what’s more, a fascinating one. It engages the heart as well as the head, and it does show us heroes proved.