The near-future novel 'Zero Point' by Nafeez Ahmed is an accessible rocket ride through our current tangle of terrorism and Anglo-American geopolitical interests.
By Carrie Hampel, October 2014
Ahmed’s novel Zero Point could not be more topical at a time when the US, UK and Australia have just raised their terror warnings to “high” or “severe”, and the US can’t seem to stop bombing the Middle East to “fight the terrorists who threaten our country”[i].
The story follows a special-ops soldier called David through a violent chain of events in London’s near future. David gets caught up in a web of secret service, military providers and terrorist players as he is hurtled into the homeland terror circus.
The novel is packed with information that never feels didactic – although I have to admit, occasionally the ‘facts’ do seem a little outlandish. For example, one character gives his soldiers a little historical information about ‘black ops’ by telling them about “Operation Gladio”. Between the 1960s and the early 80s waves of terror bombings in Europe were supposedly blamed on Communists, but actually carried out by NATO stay-behind networks. Seems outlandish, but even a little fact checking shows that this is perfectly solid factual information.[ii] Ahmed doesn’t just fuel his story with a whole lot of high-octane information, he connects the dots in context. Ahmed foresaw the most recent US military operation in Iraq, which coincided with the novel’s release. But you’d be forgiven for having missed it. Zero Point was quietly self-published in August 2014; it deserves a lot more attention.
Nafeez Ahmed is indeed an expert on ‘international relations focussing on Western military action, counter-insurgency and the war on terror’– the subject of his PhD thesis. Not at all a dusty academic, Ahmed has advised the British Foreign Office and the UK Military Defence Academy among other official organisations, as well as writing a regular column called “Earth Insight” for The Guardian newspaper and having a stack of non-fiction publications to his name. In Zero Point, Ahmed introduces us to military and secret-service operations that have deliberately supported foreign terrorist organisations in order to destabilise unwanted governments in oil-rich countries. Ahmed illustrates how these self-same terrorist organisations are then able to start operations in the West. As his characters splatter their way through the story, he gets into the nitty-gritty of dysfunctional military and secret-service structures. This is a world where, “We’ve seen some [expletive] as a result of government contracting out staple intelligence work to the private sector.” Security firms go completely rogue or simply follow their own commercial interests with devastating consequences. Sound familiar? [iii] Our hero, David, attempts to battle corrupt forces within UK military and secret services, who enjoy a lack of accountability – in this novel, as well as in reality – that dates back to the end of WWII.
If – as Ahmed describes – the terrorist circus follows the Anglo-American thirst for oil like a bad smell (my wording), things in our real, present-day world do not bode well for Africa, home to the world’s only remaining untapped sweet oil [iv]. Lo and behold, with just a little perusing the net you’ll find out that this circus there is already well underway[v].
Which is what makes Ahmed’s book so vital. Tucked into the blood-spattered action are nuggets of geopolitical and historical information that are shaping your evening news, but seldom mentioned there. You couldn’t ask for a more entertaining run-through of the inner-workings of military and secret services in the name of Anglo-American geopolitical interests.
A plethora of non-fiction has been written on the near-future consequences of dwindling oil supplies, but these subjects appear to have remained largely ignored by novelists. Recent exceptions are David Mitchell’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks, where (unfortunately only at the very end) he briefly describes a future in Ireland beyond the age of cheap oil; and Monica Byrne has explored elements of global future energy crises in her beautiful first novel The Girl in the Road.
Despite Zero Point being a thoroughly engaging, rip-roaring, and
very important tale, Ahmed’s dialogue is sometimes un-polished and some of his characters could do with more detail. But that doesn’t stop it being a great ride. I loved the
character Riza – a teary, failed-terrorist whose spontaneous displays of affection are both funny and believable. I have high hopes for the second and third books in extremely promising
series. Zero Point is fun, smart, and does
what science fiction does best: it gives us a fact-based imaginative framework for our very own future if we don’t change it soon. Perhaps more importantly, Zero Point gives us an idea of what is going on for real, right now.
[i] Taken from the official transcript of Barack Obama’s speech on combating ISIS and terrorism. September 11, 2014.
[ii] Starting with the Wikipedia entry on “Operation Gladio”
[iii]Article in Foreign Policy online magazine by Justine Drennen, October 10, 2014http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/10/10/lets_get_the_old_blackwater_team_back_together_iraq_isis?utm_content=buffer8db0e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
[iv] Untapped: The scramble for Africa’s Oil by John Ghazvinian (Harcourt, 2007)
[v] Sept 2013, The Nation and Le Monde Diplomatique both published an article called “The US Military Pivot to Africa” by Nick Turse originally published by TomDispatch.com that states: “From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the US military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion” http://mondediplo.com/openpage/the-pivot-to-africa