An Alex Hawke Series, No 7
March 20th, 2012/ISBN 978-0-06-185930-4
by Elise Cooper
Ted Bell's latest book Phantom is an insightful thriller.
He explores the possibilities of artificial intelligence used as
weaponry in future wars. He furthers delves into "the Singularity,"
which is the moment when artificial or machine intelligence (computers)
matches and then exceeds human intelligence.
The main plot is fascinating and riveting. The villain is a supercomputer
called Perseus. The inventor of this monolithic machine, a quadriplegic
Iranian scientist, Dr. Darius Saffari, must answer to the Iranian
president and mullahs in Tehran. To prove the power of Perseus,
he uses this cyber weapon to inflict and attack electromechanical
systems around the world. A series of horrifying events take place:
a tragedy at Disney World, a Russian sub attacking a cruise ship,
a surreal attack on Air Force One by its own fighter escort, an
American ABM launching site has its missiles blown up, as well as
assassination attempts on Russian President Putin and many AI scientists.
He commented, "I think AI is going to change the world and
the general public is not thinking about it. Will computers become
more intelligent than humans? My readers might think I am making
this up, but will it become true?"
The hero of the story is Alex Hawke, a British secret agent, who
must search for the machine and its inventor to end their evil.
Hawke can be described as a James Bond type character, who is strong,
shrewd, and savvy. As Hawke hunts down these enemies, the reader
is taken to many places in the world. These settings include California,
the South of France, Moscow, Cambridge University, and the Persian
He reflected, "I try to look around the corner or go ahead.
Some of the stuff I write about comes true. In past books I wrote
about Russia attempting to control its satellite states and how
tunnels were being built under the Southern border before these
events became true. Right now I am in the middle of the whole world
I write about and I find it fascinating." Currently he is a
writer-in-residence at Cambridge University and is also working
as a visiting scholar at the Department of Politics and International
What distracts from the main plot is a sub-plot continued from the
previous book: Hawke thwarts a coup in Russia by killing an imperialist
ruler who proclaimed himself a Tsar. In Phantom Alex Hawke
learns that his beloved Anastasia Korsakova, the "Tsarist"
daughter, whom he thought long dead, allegedly lives in a maximum
security Siberian KGB facility. In Siberia, he finds Anastasia who
has him take their three-year-old child Alexi back to England in
order to keep their son safe. There are parts of the book where
soldiers loyal to the Tsar try to take revenge on both Hawke and
Another distraction, although it plays a very small part in the
book, is a fantasy scene that takes away from the believability
of the story. By rearranging molecules an Iranian Revolutionary
Guard is turned into a "humanoid female machine."
Even with these few diversions, Bell has written a brilliant book
with a gripping plot, full of action. The reader will surely think
about the dangers of artificial intelligence, how a Hitler-type
person could eventually control these machines. After finishing
Phantom the question arises, will machines be fighting the next
war and how much control will humans have?