It is not uncommon for international affairs to influence popular culture. Whether it is in the form of movies, television shows, novels, or even comics, we can see events from around the world, and domestic politics creep in to the media we consume for fun. The events of 9/11 and the US response in particular has had a considerable impact on Hollywood and fiction. In the former, movies such as Green Zone, In the Valley of Elah, Hurtlocker, and Zero Dark Thirty (to name but four) have obvious connections to the Global War on Terror – as do the TV series 24, Splinter Cell and Homeland. In fiction, authors such as Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Marc Cameron and many others, have produced multiple thrillers and long-lived, bestselling series that feature Middle Eastern/Islamic terrorists as antagonists. This is, of course, not a new phenomenon: the Cold War had plenty of impact on popular culture, as well (see, for example, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels and the Russian antagonists in James Bond films of the era).
Despite the importance of the US-China relationship, however, it doesn’t seem to have had as much influence on pop culture. True, you will sometimes see a mention, or a side-issue or event arise that mentions or highlights tensions (real or imagined) between the US and China – one example would be Season 4 of the aforementioned 24, at the end of which Jack Bauer is given to the Chinese for violating one of their consulates.
This year, however, there are at least two novels coming out that propose worst-case scenarios in the near future for the US-China relationship. In addition, as part of my current day-job, manuscripts are cropping up in literary agents’ inboxes that take a look at the current relationship or potential conflict-ridden futures, with Washington and Beijing squaring off against each other over resources, influence, or all-out warfare.
And so, taking a momentary break from the more serious content on the blog, and because I’m starting to notice them more often, I thought I’d share some information about a few of the novels that might appeal to those with an academic and/or intellectual interest in the US-China relationship and a taste for thrillers. In no particular order, here they are…
2017. China has bailed out the West, but the West have defaulted on their debt. Now someone is intent on making them pay... On the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders, two Chinese Methodist ministers are killed in an apparently motiveless execution in Hong Kong’s financial district. Detective Alex Soong is one of the first officers at the scene. Soong begins to suspect the crime is more than a senseless assassination and must race to thwart a conspiracy born from one of the bloodiest confrontations of China’s past, which now threatens to destroy a fragile world order.
Duncan Jessop is an award-winning director and producer of five feature films. He lives in Hong Kong. Emperors Once More is due to be published by Quercus Books in the UK, on February 27th 2014.
Sam Bourne, AMERICAN WINTER
The United States have yielded to the People’s Republic of China – Beijing has written off trillions of dollars of US debt in return for a permanent military presence on US soil. America is now a former global superpower, dependent on and junior to China. And the evidence – cultural and political – is everywhere.
Madison Webb is a work-obsessed journalist who will do anything to get to the heart of a story; to expose lies and corruption. When her sister is brutally murdered, the police seem too eager to write it up as an isolated incident. Madison starts digging and uncovers a series of similar rape-murder cases.
As her investigation beings to attract the media spotlight, Madison draws the attention of some powerful people. And when she reveals the link between the victims, Madison will find out that the Chinese military makes for a terrifying enemy…
Sam Bourne is the bestselling author of The Final Reckoning, The Chosen One, Pantheon, and more. American Winter is due to be published by Harper on July 14th 2014 in the UK.
End Game is a powerful geo-political thriller set in 2018 that describes the build up to a confrontation between the navies of the world's superpowers, US and China off the Horn of Africa. Two seemingly unrelated incidents – the massacre of US medical volunteers by an obscure guerrilla faction in an African war zone, and a corporate raid to undermine the share price of a New York based bank – set the wheels in motion.
The novel describes, with documentary precision and convincing authenticity, the responses of the US president and his counterpart in Beijing; the options tendered by the political advisers, financial watchdogs and military establishments on both sides; the actions of Special Forces on the ground and of the carrier groups despatched to the Indian Ocean, and the rising clamour of the world's media as the crisis escalates towards catastrophe.
The climax of the novel rivals and replicates the real life finale of the Cuban missile crisis 50 years earlier: the leaders on both sides recognize that the first shot fired will have lethal consequences. But how can they resolve the crisis without a loss of face that will sweep them from office and replace them with the hawks and hardliners who promote confrontation? Matthew Glass’s denouement is as compelling and ingenious as the build up that precedes it.
End Game was published in 2011 by Corvus books.
There are other novels that have featured the US-China relationship in one form or another. If you know of any others that are particularly noteworthy, feel free to share them in the comment thread, below.