Another Review at MyShelf.Com

An Alex Hawke Series, No 7
Ted Bell

Harper Collins
March 20th, 2012/ISBN 978-0-06-185930-4
Political Thriller
Reviewed 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 Gulf.

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 Studies.

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 his son.

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?

Warlord, No 6

Reviewed 2012