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Genre-Hopping: SF & Espionage

March 10, 2011 by Reader's Connection

A Most Wanted ManIn some respects, the two titles here couldn’t be more dissimilar. One is a spy story, and one is a Christian science fiction yarn. One author casts a dark eye on the United States (especially with regard to the way Muslims are treated by its war on terror) and the other looks hopefully to “the religious right in America, as an organized political force,” to deal (compassionately) with the plight of immigrant families. One novel ends grimly, with anger, and the other transcendantly, with new hope.

All that aside, the books share some characteristics. They both move easily among different points of view, leaving the reader with questions about the identities of certain characters. In John LeCarré´s A Most Wanted Man, young Russian Muslim called Issa, bearing the physical signs of past beatings, appears in Hamburg, Germany and attracts the attention of lawyer Annabel Richter, banker Tommy Brue, and, for better or worse, a host of spies.

 

Flight of ShadowsIn Sigmund Brouwer’s Flight of Shadows, a young woman named Caitlyn, who has escaped from the seceded city-state of Appalachia, and bears wings–yes, wings on her back–attracts the attention of a wandering magician who calls himself Razor, a government agent called Pierce, and, for better or worse, some politically connected scientists. The book is a sequel to Broken Angel, in which Caitlyn is introduced, but the story moves along irresistably whether you’ve read the first one or not.

You may be put off by some of Brouwer’s violence, especially that involving some of Caitlyn’s genetically developed “cousins,” and you should be forewarned that one character, an Appalachian bounty hunter called Mason, takes to eating rats while trapped in a cave and becomes addicted. But if you’ve got a strong stomach, come fly with Caitlyn. (There’s very little violence in the LeCarré novel, but when violent action occurs it is heartbreaking.)

 

Are there dangers to genre-hopping? Broken AngelReading both books at once, of course, means that you’re jumping among two different sets of characters, and keeping even one of these sets straight can be a challenge. I never completely lost track–I knew that Caitlyn wouldn’t come flying into Hamburg–but  I sometimes had to pause to make sure I knew who was who in each story.

To my knowledge, no characters from LeCarré´s earlier novels turn up in A Most Wanted Man. I haven’t kept up with him since the end of the Cold War, though, and I could be wrong. If you’re interested, Publishers Weekly says that Broken Angel, the predecessor of Flight of Shadows, is an “addictively readable futuristic Christian dystopia” which “takes readers inside a state run by literalistic, controlling fundamentalists. There, reading is a serious crime; citizens are drugged into submission; and those who break rules are either sent to slave labor factories or stoned to death . . . While trying to escape, Caitlin . . . is aided by a sort of underground railroad. Its leaders believe the fundamentalist government has distorted true Christianity, so they risk everything to help people get Outside to freedom.”

Coming up on Genre-Hopping: Westerns & Henry James 
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