"The Tears of Autumn" was another brilliantly portrayed story dealing with the CIA in Vietnam, almost a sequel to Graham Greene's "The Quiet American." It tells another, rather believable alt-history of the assassination of JFK. Through nearly 40 years of McCarry’s spy novels, I felt that I had my own private, intellectual alternative to the adventure-spy novels that were en vogue. Don’t get me wrong, a number of McCarry’s novels made the New York Times Bestseller’s List, but they were the type of books that made the list then swiftly disappeared, like one of his characters. What’s worse is they went out of print as well.
All of this is in preference to why I picked up Ark when I saw it in the publisher's catalog. I was somewhat disappointed when I saw the book was science fiction and not another Paul Christopher novel, but it was not just the subject matter that kept me reading McCarry since the early ‘70s. It was also for the beauty of his prose, the depth of his stories and the marvelous, flesh and blood character studies.
I grew up on the sci-fi of Bradbury, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and others. Writers who put the emphasis on science in science fiction. I had slowly migrated away from the genre over the past couple of decades when sci-fi took on more of a fantasy bent, but I figured that with McCarry’s talents, and his seeming insider knowledge of the world of government espionage, he might bring that to the world of sci-fi.
I’m sorry to say that I was wrong. First. Ark takes a dead horse and bets it some more; the world’s about to end, and lets save it. Its almost a cliché from plot to print. An apocalyptic story that adds nothing to the canon.
The story revolves around the world's first trillionaire, Henry Peel. Henry starts off as an unbelievable character, not because his net worth is astronomical, but because we are led to believe that he got it all honestly, without making many major enemies of businessmen or governments. He’s also the worlds smartest, most brilliant mind. Equally astronomically talented in science, engineering--all fields of course–mathematics, art, you name it, Henry has it. He’d embarrass the Corona guy. Henry is a recluse, and other than his clichéd genius attributes (his mind tends to wander, he’s not a great conversationalist, dresses shabbily, etc…) he’s likeable. He’s sort of a Bill Gates-Howard Hughes mish-mash with rock star overrtones. The odd thing here is that Henry, despite his unrealistic background and trite makeup, is an interesting character study worthy of McCarry’s reputation.