BOOK REVIEW: 'The Ascendant': Debut Cyber Thriller Posits 'War by Other Means' Between U.S., China

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Ascendant': Debut Cyber Thriller Posits 'War by Other Means' Between U.S., China

We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means. -- From the 1976 Princeton University Press translation of "Vom Kriege" ("On War") by Carl von Clausewitz, 1780-1831

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Clausewitz would have understood the thinking of 26-year-old Garrett Reilly, the protagonist of Drew Chapman's debut cyber thriller "The Ascendant" (Simon & Schuster, 400 pages, $25.00, also available in a Kindle eBook edition).

The Prussian soldier and military theorist was one of the first military men to think outside the box. According to his Wikipedia entry:

 "He stressed the dialectical interaction of diverse factors, noting how unexpected developments unfolding under the "fog of war" (i.e., in the face of incomplete, dubious, and often completely erroneous information and high levels of fear, doubt, and excitement) call for rapid decisions by alert commanders."

Clausewitz is just the kind of guy Garrett Reilly would like to have on his team, a person who could spot seemingly unrelated information and piece together a scenario. 

"The Ascendant" is the first book in a projected series featuring  Reilly, a self-described "half Mexican, half Irish surfer" from Long Beach, CA. now employed as a Wall Street bond analyst. Not one for false modesty, Reilly thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, an assessment that his mentor at Jenkins & Altshuler, Avery Bernstein,  agrees with.

When Reilly notices a pattern that escapes everybody else at the firm -- that U.S. Treasury bonds are being sold off at a frantic pace and in huge amounts -- Bernstein calls his contacts in Washington, DC and a very reluctant Garrett Reilly finds himself working for a government agency, alongside people he hates fiercely:  soldiers and marines.

Reilly has convinced Bernstein that the bond sell-off is part of a cyber attack by China that includes massive real estate purchases to drive down housing prices, just as they are about to recover from the Great Recession of 2008.

One reason Garrett Reilly hates the military is that his brother Brandon, who joined the Marine Corps, was killed in Afghanistan, needlessly, Garrett believes, in a senseless war that we cannot win.

Since this is a thriller, there has to be a beautiful woman in it and there is -- with U.S. Army Captain Alexis Truffant striving mightily to convince Garrett to use his talents to head up a secret group called The Ascendant save the nation from the cyber attack by the Red Chinese. She succeeds and Garrett assembles a crew of misfit geniuses who turn their space in the Pentagon into a junk-food littered gaming space, with real money being used to attack the Chinese.

There's a parallel story line involving a young Chinese woman named Hu Mei, who's the secretive leader of a group of people fighting the corruption of the Chinese government, including their acts of stealing land to build factories that make the products that fill the big box stores of the world.

While Alexis Truffant and her boss, General Hadley Kline,  believe in the Ascendant team, not everyone in the administration does, especially Secretary of Defense Duke Frye. He's got the ear of the the President, so Alexis and Kline have strong opposition.

There's more than enough action in "The Ascendant" to satisfy the most rabid fans of the late Tom Clancy, whose Jack Ryan series is being rebooted in a new movie, "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Pine as Jack Ryan. If it survives "development hell," Chapman's novel will be on the nation's TV screens in the not too distant future: rights to the book were sold to 20th Century Fox TV, the people behind the hit series "24" and more recently, "Homeland."

Chapman writes this about his conflicted protagonist Garrett Reilly: "I really wanted Garrett to be representative of a new generation of Americans and a new generation of American heroes.  He is grappling with the questions of loyalty and patriotism, and I think those are questions that a lot of Americans now are grappling with, especially from that generation. Garrett Reilly is 26 years old. Eric Snowden is 26 years old. Those guys, are they heroes or are they traitors?"

About the author

Drew Chapman has worked on screenplays for many movies. Using his full name, Andrew Chapman, he wrote and directed the 1998 indie film "Standoff." Currently, he creates and writes shows for network television. Most recently he was the writer and executive producer of an ABC mini-series about the hunt for CIA mole Aldrich Ames.  Married, with two children, Chapman divides his time between Los Angeles and Seattle.

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