The quaint notion of conspiracies composed of smoky rooms filled with shadowy old men playing Stromboli to the common man’s Pinocchio has been dealt a serious blow over the last few years. They mystery and danger of modern-day conspiracies has been ruined thanks to major media coverage of Hilary’s unsecured email server, Peter Strzok’s mincing testimony before Congress, and the dull banality of Lois Lerner’s bureaucratic hitjob on the wrong sorts of political organizations. Coupled with the utter lack of punishment for those caught red-handed, the idea of a lone crusader fighting to expose shadowy forces to the masses in the hopes of using sunlight as the best disinfectant now feels nearly as far-fetched as radium guns, men raised by gorillas, and farm kids using one well-placed torpedo up the exhaust port to destroy the ultimate space battle-station. The panopticon under which we all live has made it harder to keep secrets, but the apathy of a well-fed and secure citizenship provides all the cover a cabal needs to do in the open what they used to do in cloakrooms and dark parking garages.
In The Brave and the Bold, Hans G. Schantz takes an admirable stab at crafting a modern-day conspiracy story that acknowledges those challenges, embraces the changes, and crafts a strangely compelling cloak and dagger story that’s heavy on the techno-jargon and sly asides to knowing readers. The third in The Hidden Truth series, The Brave and the Bold follows Pete Burdell, a STEM student at Georgia Tech, as he caroms off the various players in a hidden war for the soul of an alternate-earth that’s just different enough from our own to make for a risk-free sandbox, but a world close enough to ours to allow for some real insights and pack a dramatic punch at the right moments.
The action starts off slow, but as the story progresses and complications arise, the threats mount up and the pace quickens towards a frantic ending that provides a satisfying ending even as it sets up the next story in the franchise. Unlike most spy tales, in The Hidden Truth series, the main protagonist is an unassuming young man who possesses a formidable intellect, and one he has put to use mastering the much more lucrative field – intelligence wise – of information technology. When he and his friends learn of a Bilderberg style conference, he manages to insert himself as part of the IT team tasked with providing internet connectivity for the attendees, and turns that to his advantage. To call what follows a hacker fight doesn’t do the investigation and code-war justice.
Hans G. Schantz clearly knows his stuff, and he shows that half of the effort that goes into hacking computers happens face to face with users rather than sitting down and hammering at a keyboard. There are numerous showdowns, intellectual dances between somebody trying to draw information out of an unwilling dupe without the subtle interrogation drawing notice. It’s a fun glimpse into the art of computer security and surveillance systems, and helps make this alternate-earth story informative in a hard-sci-fi sense as well as fun in an action-adventure sense. Fans of the Q:Anon phenomena will appreciate this fictional take on the sort of covert war fought for hearts and minds via memes and bannings as a detailed demonstration of how one such war might be fought.
If you haven’t read the first two entries in the series, the frequent reminders that the world of The Brave and the Bold, took a few wrong turns along the path of history can be jarring. Especially if you didn’t realize going in that this is a world where Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election, among other less obvious alterations to the timeline. Particularly given how small a role the changes to history play in this entry to the series. That’s not a particularly fair criticism. This book represents one chapter in an on-going series, and it’s admittedly likely the alt part of this earth factors into other chapters much more significantly. It’s more of a warning to anyone heading into the book that, while it can be read just fine as a stand-alone adventure, you’ll find the narrative has a more natural feel to it if you’ve already spent time soaking in Schantz’s world for two books before picking this one up.
Even if we can’t find justice for conspirators in this world, there’s no reason we can’t have fun speculating on how a conspiracy of those dedicated to the truth might be able to deliver some justice to a rival conspiracy of lies. The Brave and the Bold might be wish fulfillment, but sometimes it’s worth reading such stories if only to see how such a wish might be fulfilled can help remind us all that such wishes can come true.