October 27th, 2007

Still More Brockmann

I just finished _Into the Storm_. The WW2 story here is very background. Lindsey's not-biological-grandfather and her biological grandmother are the WW2 characters, but it's all offstage. Central story revolves around the Troubleshooters and Team 16 in training, first in San Diego, then in way north New Hampshire. A serial killer grabs the receptionist when their training op is interrupted by the SEALs being called out for a drill (the receptionist was playing hostage and was in the middle of escaping when everyone's cell rang and distracted them -- she didn't have hers and was too dumb to turn around when no one intercepted her in the woods). Well, it's a lot more complicated than that. But anyway.

The climax (blinding snowstorm, burning house, serial killer, drugged victim, car accident, etc.) was overblown. I mean, really. But that's characteristically Brockmann. Which raises the fascinating question:

What is so appealing about this formula?

First, let's get through the obvious bits. Extremely smart, extremely fit people (men and women, gay and straight) stuck in a nasty situation. They have a plan. The plan encounters reality. They improvise collectively. They (mostly) survive. In the course of this process, at least two of them hook up permanently. Generally another two hook up initially. Others circle painfully. Best of all, background relationships throughout the group carry over from one book to the next, so you get to follow their lives as they marry, reproduce, etc., without that having to carry an entire sequel, probably unrealistically.

Part of the appeal clearly lies in the fuckedupedness of the players. They're good people, but They Have Baggage. Like, a container-load each, minimum. Well, maybe not everyone. But Sam with his physically, verbally and emotionally abusive father who, it turns out, had a huge collection of kiddie porn that Sam discovers after dear old dad dies? Not to mention the whole Uncle/Aunt thing that turn out to _really_ be his Uncle and Aunt, but dear old dad cut her out of his life when she married the black guy.

Lindsey with her mother-died-of-cancer-over-parts-of-two-decades, dad is distant and she overheard him say he wished he hadn't reproduced when he realized his father (her bio grandfather) was some Japanese military guy who raped his mother.

And why go near poor Grady Morant (abandoned to torture in a tropical prison for three years, then works for a drug lord, then on the run for a while, hooks up with a nice lady whose first boyfriend in high school died young and who, oh you don't need to know but then she gets a lump in her breast, and she's kidnapped and I mean come on). Or Gina.

Fuckedup main characters are appealing for a variety of reasons. They make the reader (whatever his or her problems might be) feel pretty well-adjusted. And it's possible to imagine someone that gorgeous being involved with someone considerably less gorgeous in exchange for the less gorgeous person being a whole lot less fucked up. Not plausible, but not inconceivable. Plus, the train wreck factor.

Another part of the appeal: sex + violence = hawt. Seriously. I'm sure it says bad things about the audience (including me), but there are a lot of out here who respond very positively to sex + violence. And Brockmann's combination is very careful to avoid The Big Ick (rape, coerced or manipulative sex, relationship violence, etc.). The Sophia-Decker story line is right on the hairy edge, but that's pretty much the point of that story line.

Not to be ignored is Brockmann's savvy navigation of our view of terrorism over the last few years. Throughout the series, terrorists are far more effective in her universe than in the real one -- their attacks are more likely to be successful and against American citizens (and in the continental U.S.) than has been the case in reality. This gives her Heroes some great opportunities to be Heroes. Before 9/11, the encounters tended to be slow-developing and negotiation was a crucial component. In the immediate wake of 9/11, encounters became much more violent, and characters were more likely to violate chain-of-command (military shooting into a crowd that included civilians without the civilian authority given the order to do so; there were Consequences to Careers). As the years ticked along, and more and more questions have arisen regarding the conduct of the Global War on Terror (in Iraq and elsewhere), the characters become disillusioned. Throughout there's a strong message of no-profiling/homegrown threats are real/the world is a very messy place. The books therefore reflect and interpret the Bad News in a pro-diversity BUT pro-armed forces/pro-US way.

This looks real centrist to me -- and it makes centrist look pretty appealing.

It took me a couple of days to finish this post; in the interim I read _Force of Nature_ which continues a variety of trends in this series. Neither of the main characters in this entry have armed forces background. Unskinny, athletic Annie hooks up with Cuban-American Ric Alvarado in his PI biz. Ric thinks he's got a simple track-someone-down case, but it metastasizes into a creepy crime-lord's-pornographer-and-serial-murderer-son-who-is-importing-a-terrorist to fund his shenanigans. Oh, and did I mention the subplot revolves around Jules and Robin finally hooking up? To recap: non-white hero, check. Gay couple, check. Alcoholism, check. The terrorists are coming in because of homegrown criminal activity, check.

Kinda cool.