In This Ex-Spook’s New Thriller, Chuck Schumer Is President and Terror Is Spreading
Eric Anderson's 'Anubis' picks up where 'Osiris' left off
In 2019 a bloody attack on the American embassy in Baghdad kills countless Americans and unleashes a crisis that will soon envelope the world as special operators, spies, terrorists and politicians scramble to respond to the new reality. This is the horror scenario that Eric Anderson envisions in his novel Osiris and its new sequel Anubis.
Anderson is a former Air Force officer and a veteran of the CIA and DIA. He’s an intimately familiar with America’s wars and intelligence agencies. For him, his novels aren’t just a yarn—they’re a warning.
“While you believe you have militarily defeated your adversary, they have simply morphed into another format,” he told me. “For instance the British were aptly convinced that defeating the colonists would be a relatively straightforward task. And we have sometimes been very bold in believing the same thing with ISIS.”
Anderson lives in Port Townsend, Washington, where in addition to writing he has been working as a general contractor and sailing whenever he gets a chance. But he continues following the news closely, and his writing reflects that.
Like Tom Clancy did, he’s found that telling a good story is one of the best ways to get people thinking about big national-security issues. He told War Is Boring that he learned early on that people love narratives, whether they’re members of a book club or U.S. military generals.
Working in the intelligence community, “you begin to realize that your consumer does not live in a world uncolored by their own imagination,” he explained. “You need to be able to add some color to make people understand.”
One thing that distinguishes Anderson’s work from the likes of Clancy and other military fiction writers is that, while they often use thinly-veiled versions of real people as adversaries or politicians, Anderson doesn’t bother with the veil.
While there are several fictional characters in the mix, such as Marine Gunnery Sergeant More and Army Major Faheem, the books frequently shift to the perspectives of figures such as real ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. In Anubis, America has elected Democratic senator Chuck Schumer to the Oval Office.
“The opportunity to paint for your reader a figure or a character or a figure is tremendously difficult to give them a feel for what that personality may be like,” Anderson said of his decision to use real people. “But if you take someone like a Schumer, who is a well known personage, and make him president of the United States, well, we all have our perceptions of what Mr. Schumer should be like. Now can actually look at where he might go if he chose to actually run for the oval office.”
Anderson says he tries to approach the characters as layered and complex, especially when it comes to real-life figures. Several readers have noted an unusually rounded depiction of ISIS leader Baghdadi. “It’s not 50 shades of gray, but 500 shades of gray,” he explained.
Anubis. Dunn Books
In some ways, he said he even thinks the ruthless Baghdadi has “in some ways more of a soul” than does Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who Anderson believes is intent on resurrecting the Ottoman Empire.
Anderson said he thinks that Americans often fail to understand the Arab world. He argued that Americans were largely ignorant of the complexities of the Middle East for many years even as the U.S. government became more and more entangled in the region. For instance, many Americans seemed stunningly ignorant of the Sunni-Shia split until American troops became caught in the middle of it after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“We’ve failed to capture that nuance,” Anderson said. “And it has hindered our analysis in dealing with the Iranians. And it has certainly hindered our ability to deal with the situation in Iraq.”
He pointed out that while America is involved in the longest war in history, many Islamists believe they’ve been at war with America much longer—ever since American troops began setting up permanent bases in the Middle East after the 1991 Gulf War. Anderson said he sees the Arab worldview as having some parallels to the Chinese “century of humiliation” that saw the West flood the country with opium and plunder it.
He said that for Arabs, it’s more like a thousand years of humiliation starting with the crusades, continuing through colonial rule, subjugation by Cold War regimes and the long-term U.S. presence in the region after the Gulf War.
Anderson argued that that’s an aspect of the jihadist ideology that hasn’t been emphasized enough either in policy papers or news coverage. That’s why he’s made it an important part of his novels. “The driving force that drives these young men and women to the jihadi movement is the thought of redemption—and not just their personal redemption,” he said.
He added that it helps explain why young Muslims from across the globe would go to a barren, war-torn desert to try and recreate an idealized version of the first caliphate. Anderson said he hopes that his novels provoke readers to think critically about geopolitics and the future of America’s wars.
Anderson told War Is Boring that he just finished another book called Byte, informed in part by his experiences working on cybersecurity issues. Like much of his work, it involves a major turning of the scales. “That’s looking at instead of the Russians manipulating our election, it’s us manipulating the Russian election when Putin is up for re-election.”