Attitude, as they say, is everything. That is why I'm going to
state up front that at times while reading AMERICA, Stephen
Coonts's latest thriller, my heart was in the wrong place. Instead
of struggling mightily to maintain this over the hill,
past-the-middle-of-middle-age body, it was in my throat. Lodged.
I'm still trying to swallow it down or cough it up.
Sometimes I think if Stephen King wanted to retire, or purchase
ghosted ideas, he could hire Coonts to fill in. Coonts doesn't deal
in wampirs or rabid dogs or pyrotechnic adolescent girls,
however. He deals with the monsters that we ourselves have not only
created but also invited in with a bow and a sweep of the hand when
they've come knocking on the window late at night wanting to suck
the blood right out of us. That would be the monster called
technology I'm referring to, my friends.
I love high tech stuff and all the good things that it has given
us. I'm hooked. I love the computers and the watches and the phones
and the Palm Pilots and CDs and the medical gear that keeps us all
alive far beyond our time. And the stuff is so vulnerable
that...well, when someone points out how easy it is to turn it back
upon ourselves, you wind up like me, with your heart in your
throat, retrieving all of those 5 gallon water jugs out of the
garage --- you know the ones, the ones you had stocked up and
filled to the brim for January 1, 2000.
AMERICA starts off easily enough. The testing of an antiballistic
missile system goes awry, sending the satellite spinning into the
ocean, seemingly lost forever. That's bad; what is much worse is
when the U.S.S. America, a state of the art nuclear
submarine, is stolen literally minutes after its launching and
right out from under the collective nose of the U.S. Navy. Things
go from bad to godawful when the sub's hijackers begin to turn all
of that shiny new hi-tech weaponry against some very select targets
in the United States. And life, as a good third of the country
knows it, ends; temporarily, sure, but for way too long a period of
time --- because some of that shiny new weaponry can blow out the
chips in everything within a radius of several miles. And whether
you know it or not, you've got more chips around your house than a
mouse in a Frito-Lay factory. Jake Grafton, the Navy's Rear Admiral
extraordinaire, is once again called upon to 1) save the day
by recovering the satellite while stopping the terrorists and 2)
show the youngsters how the job is done. He performs both tasks
quite credibly. It's unfortunate that he doesn't show up at your
front door with a defibrillator, since you're going to need one
handy by the time you finish AMERICA.
Coonts --- and Grafton --- keep getting better and better. There's
a reason for this; the villains keep getting more evil and they
keep doing scarier and scarier things. I'll be amazed if Coonts can
top himself next time out. I'll be eagerly waiting anyway.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 20, 2011