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The Cobweb Paperback – August 4, 1997

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Several months prior to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, when Iraq was still seen as an American ally against Iran, low-level CIA analyst Betsy Vandeventer steps outside her bureaucratic territory in a meeting by observing that the Iraqis might be misusing $300 million in U.S. agricultural aid to develop biological weapons. Betsy's theory throws a wrench in the long-developed foreign policy plans of high-level diplomat James Millikan, who deals with it by creating committees to study the problem, i.e., he "cobwebs" it. Meanwhile, a small-town sheriff in Iowa begins to stumble across the possibility that local Jordanian students are actually Iraqis in disguise, sent by Saddam to develop a dangerous germ-warfare weapon where his enemies would least expect it?at a small Midwestern college. Another bureaucrat, this time an academic determined to advance his career by a steady flow of grant funds and foreign-exchange students, makes the undercover enterprise easier. Bury (Interface) is at his best creating an elegant, sophisticated portrait of Washington. His capital is not a place of action and suspense so much as a more realistic place of intragovernmental turf wars and bureaucratic stalemate.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

When this latest wacky thriller from Bury (Interface, not reviewed)--a pseudonym for Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age, 1995, etc.) and J. Frederick George--puts a bunch of overweight, incorruptible Iowa huskers up against Saddam Hussein just before Desert Storm, you know the bad guy with the moustache is going to take a fall. Washington, D.C., couldn't be farther from Folks County, Iowa, where the murder of an Arab agriculture student sends the slow- talking Deputy Sheriff Clyde Banks poking into the drab closets of a high-tech bioscience laboratory that just might be cooking up Saddam's next biological warfare weapon. Meanwhile, Betsy Vandeventer, a meek, low-level CIA analyst, formerly of Folks County, makes the mistake of informing her superiors that not enough of the billions in Food for Peace foreign aid going into Iraq is being spent on soybeans. Targeted for bureaucratic extinction, Vandeventer forms an uneasy partnership with Richard Spector, a slickly confident CIA executive of uncertain loyalties. The authors play satirically with the humble cloth from which history stitches its tapestry, as the fate of the free world stumbles on, propelled by the random, inconsequential, frequently stupid, and often hilarious foibles of mere mortals. Slimy ``inside of the inside of the inside'' power-players join unctuous hit men and hopeless drunks to create mayhem for the plain Heartland types like Vandeventer, Banks and his bride, Desiree ``Deltoids'' Dhont, an Army Reserve nurse who sticks Banks with their five-month old daughter so she can win one for Poppy Bush when Desert Shield becomes Desert Storm. The plain folks take a few tumbles, Banks changes more than his share of diapers, and the world remains safe for democracy--until, at least, the authors bless us with a sequel. A charming, uproariously clever thriller, in the tradition of Ross Thomas and Richard Condon, with plenty of wry wit and deftly rendered characters. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (August 4, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553575457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553575453
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 4.5 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,714,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tung Yin VINE VOICE on February 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
As with "Interface," the question here is, how much is this like Neal Stephenson?
There are occasional touches of Stephenson, but on the whole, "The Cobweb" is much less like Stephenson's work than "Interface" was. Although there are some nerdy characters -- a Stephenson staple -- there is much less emphasis on science than in his own works, or even "Interface." That is, unless you count political science.
In that regard, "The Cobweb" seems more like the fiction of Ross Thomas and his political thrillers than Neal Stephenson's works.
On its own, "The Cobweb" is a fine read. It is essentially a revisionist tale of the Gulf War. While the book begins in early 1990 before the war, and ends in February 1991, before the end of the war, the war takes on tremendous significance. What if Iraqi terrorists were creating biological weapons at U.S. universities? On the whole, this is a more successful revision of history than "American Hero" (the basis for "Wag the Dog") was.
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By A Customer on September 19, 1996
Format: Paperback
Don't let the pen name fool you. Bury is really crack
sf writer Neal Stephenson and his uncle writing together.
They have crafted an incredible thriller here. The book
focuses on a small town in Iowa and how it and its'
inhabitants play a crucial role in Desert Storm. It seems
that Eastern Iowa State may conceal a biological weapons
factory for Saddam Hussein. Deputy sherrif Clyde Banks
begins to discover this as his wife is called up in the
Army reserves. He becomes entwined with the CIA, FBI,
foreign graduate students/spies/freedom fighters and more.

The narrative builds momentum until every page DEMANDS to be turned.
I decided to read a few pages before bed and now I'm looking at the sunrise.
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Format: Paperback
This book unfolds in typical Neal Stephenson style, with alternating chapters about seemingly unrelated characters whose lives increasingly interact with each other in unexpected ways. In this book, the characters are immensely likeable (to this reviewer, anyway) and their actions and feelings ring true--details that are funny and heart-warming, never too-clever or superfluous. Unlike the typical Neal Stephenson style, however, the book does NOT start out strong and progressively get weaker. Rather, the plot unfolds steadily and in a most pleasing manner from start to finish. Even if the underlying premise is a bit tough to swallow, there are no annoying holes in the plot. This reviewer has read all of Neal Stephenson's books, and considers this book and "Snow Crash" his two best.
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By Dan Waber on January 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
You're not likely to find a Stephenson fan out there who's more willing to praise his work. And as for Bury, well, all I can say is that this collaboration is 1 for 2. Everything that Interface is/was, The Cobweb is not. I was barely able to finish it, and I'm sorry I did. It's not so much that it's horribly bad...not at all...it's merely adequate, which comes as a shock based on the fact that *everything* else he's written has been flat-out superlative.
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Format: Paperback
While this novel does not live up to the wild inventiveness and wacky humor that characterizes Stephenson's SF work, it is, in my opinion, still an above average thriller. The plot is compelling, the characters are fun, and the treatment of the various agencies and their motivations and bureaucratic techniques is nuanced (possibly based on Jewsbury's experience?).
Recommended for a pleasant long distance plane trip.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel is full of biting satire, of academia, small midwestern towns, and government. As an academic, I guffah'ed repeatedly at the wry descriptions of university politics and corruption! As after reading other books by Neil Stephenson, I desperately hope he branches into screenplays - the imagery in this novel is equally exquisitly detailed and creative!
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By A Customer on February 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
the cobweb is thought-provoking and clever. the detailed plot twists often made me smile. the characters are offbeat and likable. there is plenty of insight on politics (local, national, and world), biotech, and basic police work. above all, the cobweb is fun to read.
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