Book Report: Mission: Impossible by Peter Barsocchini (1996)

Book coverI don’t want to make you feel old, old man, but this novelization is from the first Mission: Impossible movie which came out 25 years ago. I mean, I was still working in a printing plant. Five years later, when I worked for my first start-up around the turn of the century, I had the audiocassette single of the theme song from the movie queued up, and if someone asked for something outlandish, I’d ask them to wait a minute, and I would play the cassette while they asked. Here we are, twenty years later, and I’m reading the paperback novel of the film because some such movie novelizations percolated to the top of my to-read shelves while I was looking for something else recently. Meanwhile, the 7th film in the series is scheduled for release this year, but probably not to theatres. Somehow, Tom Cruise has not aged, unlike the rest of us.

At any rate, the plot: The IMF finishes an op in Russia and immediately heads to Prague to hunt for a mole who might be selling the list of Eastern European covert agents. The mission goes South, and the team is killed. Ethan Hunt, the only surviving member of the team, is accused of being the mole, but manages to escape and recruit a team to clear his name. To do so, he must meet a shady information broker, to whom he promise to sell the worldwide covert operative list for $10 million and for the person who was going to sell the other list–the mole who got his team killed.

A couple of set pieces later, and a couple of outrageous stunts in the movie later, Ethan discovers the mole was closer than he thought.

A quick read, but it suffers from the pacing problems I noted in Alien Nation and a bunch of Executioner novels that are written from provided outlines: A lot of development in the first half, but then the book runs through set pieces to end quickly. I haven’t seen the film in ages–perhaps twenty-five years–but I don’t remember the Prague elimination of the team taking up half the movie.

Also, SPOILER ALERT, but the book uses a limited omniscient narrator who peeks into the heads of the people and tells what they’re thinking at times. Which is cheating the reader badly when it dwells for chapters on Jim Phelps, the leader of the IMF team, and SPOILER ALERT, I REPEAT, who is eventually revealed to be the mole along with his wife and other team member Claire, and none of his thoughts are about his plans to betray his team. For Pete’s sake, that’s some cheating right there. In the movie, you don’t get that interior life, so it works better. A straight third person narration would have served better. However, it couldn’t have provided the depth in the characters, even though some of that depth was the false bottom in a briefcase.

At any rate, I did mark a couple of things for the quibbles section.

Where The Wisconsinians Go

He’d been making serious judgment calls his entire life. Bachelor’s degree from Wisconsin State University, master’s from Princeton, FBI training, CIA training, special tactics and forces training, special weapons training, advanced linguistics and electronics. Ethan knew his judgment calls were not pulled out of thin air. They were based on solid training and field experience, not to mention the stability of a strong family background.
He’d grown up on a farm not far from Madison, Wisconsin, the only child of devoted parents who recognized early on that their son was exceedingly bright.

Given the proximity to Madison, I believe that the author means the University of Wisconsin. When I was attending the premier university in Wisconsin, not far from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I liked to call it University of Wisconsin-Madison to take the flagship state university down a peg. But I would not have called it Wisconsin State University.

Although I understand changing the names of universities for some prestige reason was a thing for a while. Maybe the author was trying to get ahead of the curve here.

The Deep State As The Bad Guy
Phelps tries to name a civil servant as the mole:

Phelps went silent, brooding into his coffee. “When you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable. No more Cold War. No more secrets you keep from everyone but yourself, operations where you answer to no one but yourself. The one morning, you wake up and find out the president of the United States is running the country–without your permission. The son of a bitch! How dare he? You realize it’s over, you’re an obsolete piece of hardware not worth upgrading, you’ve got a lousy marriage and sixty-two grand a year.”

The good news is that in the 21st century, we know that the President of the United States no longer runs the country. The last one couldn’t because of the resistance of the lifers, and the current one probably isn’t, either.

The 90s Ubiquity of Oprah

This book, like Alien Nation, refers to the all-powerful one:

“I told him not to hold his breath. Just chalk it all up as another sign of the decline of Western civilization.”
“He’d probably rather hear that from the president.”
“Exactly what he said to me. Maybe he’ll settle for Oprah.”

Twenty-five years later, she [Oprah] has just perhaps (the tabloids hope) aired the interview that might end the monarchy in Britain. Although, honestly, the tabs can’t hope it ends. Their stories of Katie Price (who?) won’t last forever.

Eight Track Technology
The books sometimes really tries to impress us with the latest technology, but it would better have served its own longevity to obscure the tech a bit (I did once write and sell, for money, an article to a writing magazine about how to avoid these pitfalls, although it was twelve years too late for this author). While talking about diskettes (instead of disks, which one could almost conflate with a CD or DVD or microdisc), while mentioning various architectures (unfortunately, probably from movie dialogue which needed preservation) to talking about laptops with PCMCIA cards–really, you’re dating it more than you have to.

Still, a quick thriller that made me wonder if I should pick up watching the movies. I am pretty sure that I saw the first and the second of these in the cinema, but I haven’t seen any of the other ones since then. Perhaps I should give them a try, but I already have a cabinet full of videocassettes and DVDs to get to.

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