Book Report: The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg (2002)

The Publishers Weekly blurb that appears on the Amazon page for this book begins, “Timeliness adds considerable juice to Rosenberg’s frenzied political thriller, set a couple of years in the future.” Riiiiiight. The book is set in 2010. Saddam Hussein is behind a plot to assasinate the president who wants to bring peace the Israel, finally, by talking to Chairman Arafat and with the deus ex discovery of oil off the shore of Israel and the Gaza Strip. Or something.

I bought this book for $5.98 off of the discount rack at Barnes and Noble, using gift cards, natch. I picked it because I thought Joel C. Rosenberg was Joel Rosenberg. I started reading it last week because I heard Rush Limbaugh talking about Joel C. Rosenberg. Friends, don’t be fooled. Although Joel C. Rosenberg gleefully blurs the distinction to draw suckers like me in (why else is is Web site JoelRosenberg.com when he’s diligent about putting his middle initial on his book covers, hmmm?), he’s not Joel Rosenberg. He’s not even a decent fiction writer.

All right, so I’ve already mentioned the gripping premise of the book, whose shelf life expired by the end of 2002. Now, I will break down the book’s composition for you:

  • 60% meetings
    of the cabinet and president or the president and someone or someone and staff. Includes 4 pages spent on a “tension-breaking” anecdote about flatulence and its counter tension-breaking 3-page story of misunderstaken lesbianism. The characters loved these particular stories, breaking up in laughter I, the reader, didn’t share. Most of the rest of these meetings involve various cabinet members debating the stakes of the plot.

  • 12% character sketches
    thrown in simply because the author went through the trouble of creating them. The life story of the minor character of the Chief of Staff? Hey, we’ve got the material, throw it in!

  • 4% action,
    presented in riveting cut scenes of short length and of pointless peril. Whoa, the helicopter of SEALs almost got shot down by an Iraqi MiG! That was close. Considering that they don’t do a fallujin thing in the book, it’s wasted space.
  • 8% miscellaneous exposition.

Hey! That doesn’t add up to 100%!

Neither does this ordeal of a book. Lord amighty, although I took some snickering amusement from the book (what was it with using rimming BlackBerries all the time, including the middle of a firefight between the Wall Street protagonists and the dreaded uberterrorists in the red shirts? Why do the bad guys send clandestine e-mails to each others’ AOL accounts?), I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone at any price.

It’s Clancy without the technology. Or suspense. Or any redeeming feature one finds in Clancy.

How many rules of fiction does it break? I just wrote an essay about things fiction writers should avoid, partially inspired by this book. I mean, when he wrote the book in 2001 or early 2002 (that long weekend this book took, three whole days, no doubt), its premise was believeable and compelling, but Rosenberg mistakes the personalities of the enemy (Hussein and Arafat) for systems (the Cold War Soviet Union of countless fiction writers or the WWII Nazis of Alistair MacLean and others). And then he projects their existence almost a decade into the future–probably because they existed for most of his adulthood. Three years later, both Hussein and Arafat are gone, and five years before this book’s setting, the world is a different place. Rosenberg also dips technologically into waters that will change by 2010. BlackBerries? Who’s going to have a BlackBerry in 2010? We could have chip implants by then. Telling us how careful the bad guys are to empty their deleted items folder in Microsoft Outlook? In 2010? Eight years before this book was published, Outlook was a twinkle in Bill Gates’ eye.

This book is the equivalent of a contemporary conservative book attacking Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. They’re designed for quick bucks and quick obscurity. This one, on the discount racks as late as 2005, won’t be on a publisher’s backlist because it’s irrelevant and dated before its action takes place.

(Note: Hi, MLI! You’re the only one who reads these things in their entireties, and I laud you for making it this far even though I told you in person how bad this book sucked even before Joel C. Rosenberg reached his word limit and destroyed Baghdad with a last minute Deus Ex Nuclea. I hope I’ve adequately ruined the ending so you never, ever, bother with this book.)

Maybe this C. Rosenberg guy got better after this, his first fiction book, but I’ll never know because from now on I shall be vigilant in avoiding the C. and in not taking Rush Limbaugh’s advice on fiction. I weep for the portion of my life I sacrificed for this book. I got nothing from it.