(Summer!) Trash Lit: The Profession


By Steven Pressfield. Crown, 320 pages, $25

Wow, they still drink Rolling Rock in 2032. And they still use military laptops and handhelds and complain about bad TV reception. The web doesn’t seem to have advanced much, and people still rely on the Al Jazeera video feed to see what’s going on in the Middle East.

There’s a lot that’s jarring in The Profession, a military thriller set in the Middle East 20 years in the future. For one thing, the future looks a lot like today, except that there’s been a dirty bomb attack on Long Beach and the Chinese are starting to cash in their U.S. debt, putting the world economy into turmoil. (It takes China 20 years to figure that out? Damn.)
So it’s pretty bad sci-fi. But it’s not a bad adaptation of the Heart of Darkness/Apaocalypse Now myth of the powerful general who goes rogue with his loyal troops and tries to take over part of the world.

In this case, it’s the Middle East, where (again, bad sci-fi) they’ve just found some more really rich oil fields. And much of the military work of the major nations is done by mercenaries.

One of them is General James Salter, who got cashiered out of the Marine Corps for defying the president’s orders, but who has a MacArthur-like following in both the military and the civilian worlds. He’s a private soldier now, and he's got this plan to take control of much of the world’s oil, and then return in triumph to Washington, where he can become president (oh, and marry the widow of the prez who cashiered him, who is also involved in this plot.

Our hero, Gilbert Gentilhomme (and what kind of name is that for an action hero?) is one of Salter’s best friends and loyalists, one of the few who can get close to the great man. And he knows he can’t let the general get away with his plan.

Lots of desert battles. Random brutality. International intrigue, of sorts. A bleak and dusty vision of the future -- but one where there’s no climate change or peak oil. No sex (and how come none of this summer’s thrillers have any sex?). But not bad for a quick beach read.