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The Cobweb Paperback – May 31, 2005
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From the Inside Flap
When a foreign exchange student is found murdered at an Iowa University, Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks finds that his investigation extends far beyond the small college town--all the way to the Middle East. Shady events at the school reveal that a powerful department is using federal grant money for highly dubious research. And what it's producing is a very nasty bug.
Navigating a plot that leads from his own backyard to Washington, D.C., to the Gulf, where his Army Reservist wife has been called to duty, Banks realizes he may be the only person who can stop the wholesale slaughtering of thousands of Americans. It's a lesson in foreign policy he'll never forget.
Top Customer Reviews
The Stephen Bury novels do not present this problem for the casual reader. They are stripped of most of the technical lingo, and they tend to follow more in the footsteps of modern thrillers. The difference between these novels and the average Tom Clancy clone is that they revolve around powerful critiques of modern political cultures and bureacracies.
The Cobweb is the better of these two novels. The central critique of the intelligence community is that competence without political acumen is tantamount to career suicide. The book tracks the months between Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and the start of Gulf War I and poses a terrifying question: what if the greatest enemies to our national security are the egomaniacs at the top of the security apparatus? Given the events that have transpired in between the writing of this novel and today, the question raised by this novel seems prescient.
The one thing that is lacking from the Stephen Bury novels is the decadence of Stephenson's other works. Stephenson is a novelist who has spent pages discussing the Captain Crunch-eating ritual of one of his characters (Cryptonomicon), the making of watered steel blades (the Baroque Cycle), and other incidental but vastly entertaining subjects too numerous to mention. These passages exquisitely sideline the plots of his books for an exercise in pure intellectual indulgence. Sadly, you will not find any such passages in this novel or in Interface.
First and foremost, if you've read Stephenson's recent work (Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle) then you'll probably find The Cobweb to be somewhat light reading. On the other hand, if you like thrillers, this is a very easy and palatable read.
What I enjoyed most about The Cobweb were the indictments of Washington bureaucrats, and of the way the U.S. Government works (or doesn't, as is more likely). The book's characters are people are I can relate to, whether we're talking about simple speaking but intelligent deputy sheriff Clyde Banks or the cynical career CIA agent Hennessy. The family of wrestlers named Dhont and the (fictional) migratory Vakhan Turks added a lot to the tale.
Since I have spent five years on active duty in both the Marine Corps and the Army, I particularly enjoyed the critiques of bloated bureaucracy and the central theme of the book "being cobwebbed" by bureaucrats. The detailed descriptions of government bloat and inefficiency are spot on.
The Cobweb manages to mock politics, politicians, bureaucrats and bureaucray and I found that aspect of the novel highly refreshing. The only scene I found unrealistic or unbelievable in the entire novel was the shootout in downtown D.C. in which one of the characters survives a pistol battle only to ask, "What was that all about?Read more ›
But amongst all the fun there is a more serious bulwark that Stephenson attempts to pierce with this satire cum thriller, that of just how the American intelligence agencies really work (or don't). Starting in 1990, the book covers the national and international events leading up to and through the beginning of the serious start of Gulf War I, with the major lynchpin of the plot revolving around just why there are so many Iraqi students working for their graduate degree at a small mid-west college.
For a satire to be effective, there needs to be at least a small kernel of truth buried under all the barbs - and the portrait painted here of just how the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the rest of the alphabet soup really work is frightening because events that have occurred since this book was written (long before 9/11 and WMD intelligence made headlines) show that this portrait, rather than being a gross exaggeration generated by one (or two, in this case) fevered author's mind, is painfully accurate. It is a sad commentary on our government agencies that shows that initiative and proper application of discerning, probing minds to the mass of raw data these agencies receive, rather than being appropriately acted upon and the initiator properly rewarded, is instead bound around by `study' groups, stonewallers, credit grabbers, disavowed by everyone who stands to lose a smidgen of status because they were not the originators, denigrated, have their careers short-circuited, and in short are `cobwebbed'.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Classic Stephenson storyline weaving together unlikely characters in an entertaining and suspenseful way. Thoroughly enjoyed this book!Published 2 months ago by Thomas C. Timberlake
I love Stephenson, I have read every one of his novels. This is his worst.Published 6 months ago by pen name
Stephenson has always been a favorite... delivering creative and well told stories. This one is set in 1990, with the world adapting to a post-Soviet era, new threats emerging in... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Palmudder
Interesting early non-cyberpunk thriller by wonderful writer Neal Stephenson. You can almost hear the coming of the digital thriller stirring in the background.Published 9 months ago by Deb Mcclanahan
A web of intrigue that is set during George H. W. Bush's administration. Some insights into beltway office politics and Iraqi mindset during the Kuwaiti invasion. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
Well written but not typical of Stephenson's current body of work.Published 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
Disappointingly mundane compared to Stephenson's other work. Not science fiction.Published 13 months ago by jdgalt
It's 1990 and this reviewer is carried back from his present to his past. A thrill ride sprinkled with whimsical dialogue. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Sean R McCormick
A solid thriller, and it feels extremely realistic and well-researched. Stephenson & George's characters have the ring of truth and are textbook examples of the idea of ordinary... Read morePublished 16 months ago by David Allen