I grew up reading spy fiction, which was wonderful. In fact, so total was my commitment to that literary genre of espionage that I read little else. There were highs and lows — sometimes the quality of the prose wasn’t stellar, and sometime the plotting wasn’t exactly… realistic. My dad often wondered how these spies could keep going for days without sleeping, and indeed they did tend to go on for a while. But most importantly, they introduced the idea to me of how to operate abroad — in fact, spy fiction authors introduced me to the very idea that there was an abroad!
As I think about the current state of the globalized 21st century world, it seems that literary non-fiction or narrative journalism has a role to play in explaining today’s international milieu. That is, the relationship between politics, money, and interconnected global processes is so complex that it seems like there’s an opportunity for spy fiction to tell that story. Sundance at The Conservative Treehouse has done an excellent job showing how politicians are really salesmen for their corporate sponsors, especially those who have grown rich through globalization, trade, and legislation.
Explaining the machinations behind the deep state and the political establishment appears to be an amazing opportunity for a talented writer. Every time I go to DC, it seems like people go there from all over the world to engage in activities that the rest of America gets to pay for and deal with but knows very little about because the unelected deep-state establishment in DC is a society apart. So many espionage books focus on the Nazis of World War II or the Soviets of the Cold War, but the Bourne movies showed how those traditional themes and storylines can be reworked and placed into more modern settings.
And what might those modern settings be? Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels are essentially timeless as they discuss the Kafka-esque theme of the individual within a bureaucracy. I am somewhat more partial to an insight John Le Carre had at the end of his career: specifically that the international action in the 21st century concerned multi-national corporations and economics rather than nation-states and security. I believe the Tailor of Panama was an early attempt, but it still feels dated and stale to me. They say that there are more spies running around now than ever before, so isn’t it natural to wonder what they’re doing?