The wide-ranging conversation below between Nicholas Mennuti, one of the authors of Weaponized, and Alan Glynn, whose novel The Dark Fields was adapted for the film Limitless, covers such topics as globalization, espionage fiction, Cambodia, literary influences, and film influences—a veritable “arterial spray” of allusions (their words, not ours!). You’ll definitely want to make time to dive into this fascinating exchange.
Alan Glynn: Nick, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Weaponized and was struck by several things in it. One is the fact that it is packed—action-packed and packed with ideas, which is pretty unusual, I think, and unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. The highest compliment I can pay it is to say that the book feels like North by Northwest meets Apocalypse Now. Anyone who reads the book will know immediately what I mean: the Cambodian setting, the existential end-of-American-empire angst, the assuming and trading of identities, the espionage, the cat-and-mousing around, the playfulness, the darkness, the betrayals, the reversals, the fun and the horror (x2). Perhaps those movie references betray my age, because the thing is Weaponized is also bang up-to-date in its concerns. In a way, it’s like a primer on globalization. You leave nothing out: resource wars, pipelines, corporations, big data-driven surveillance, private security firms, the outsourcing land grab, the Chinese, the Russians, and you also debate, or pose questions about, the individual’s place and responsibility in all of this. But despite packing these themes into the novel, you don’t ram them down the reader’s throat—it’s not a didactic or polemical book. Instead, you deflect and entertain with car chases and explosions, with tense checkpoint confrontations and with the occasional spurting artery. I suppose my first question is, how important was this balance for you, and how conscious were you during the writing process of trying to strike it?
Nicholas Mennuti: First off, I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book. Means a ton coming from you. I’ve been “borrowing/inspired” by you for a while. That’s one of those jokes-not jokes.
Your question is kind of a bouillabaisse of interesting things to talk about, so if I get a bit circular I hope that’s okay.
I’m kind of an espionage thriller binger and had come to the conclusion that the model hadn’t really changed in years. You either had the sort of fussy-frilly Le Carré model (that of course started with Greene and Buchan) that Olen Steinhauer, Jeremy Duns, David Ignatius, and Charles Cumming have dragged into the 21st century. Or you get the military-jingoistic version of it with Brad Thor, Andy McNab, Lee Child. And I just felt neither of these styles felt like the right way to deal with the chaos of the 21st century.
The world had changed, but espionage fiction still felt very 1989. All of those authors (many of whom I do like) still seemed locked into talking about a world that has kind of ceased to exist. A unipolar world that one man can save from destruction. So I really wanted to talk about topics/places that I felt were being underserved/underutilized by contemporary espionage fiction. Which of course leads you into privatized spying and the third-world. Now, that’s all analytical, and I probably became more aware of that as I went through writing/editing the book. But this desire to break the paradigm was there all along.
But where Weaponized really started was with my enduring obsession with Antonioni’s The Passenger. Do you know that one? It’s with Jack Nicholson. It’s all about identity switching and existential ennui in the guise of a thriller. Only problem is that it’s Antonioni—who had no interest in making a thriller. So I started thinking: what if you made an actual thriller out of this art-movie?
North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have been obsessions of mine since I was a teenager, so they’re just part of my creative DNA at this point. I’m sure they’re going to be present in whatever I write. If I were writing a romantic comedy, I’m sure there’d be at least one spy and one third-world setting.
Apocalypse Now in particular fascinated me. It reminded me of Graham Greene’s fiction in that the topography of the novel seemed like the perfect literal manifestation of the lead character’s interior. With Apocalypse, I’ve never been sure whether Vietnam looked that crazy, or if it just looked that crazy to Martin Sheen. And that subjectivity runs through Weaponized. I wanted people to feel Cambodia through Kyle. Just like how you feel Vietnam through Willard. That’s also something you got a lot of mileage out of in Dark Fields (Limitless). Just how subjective/expressionistic can I get with this narrator without pulling this out of genre territory. Would you agree?
And what both North by Northwest and Apocalypse Now have in common is that they’re genre movies of the highest order that managed to pack a ton of subtext into the genre without weighing it down.
I mean I could write a page just on how fascinating it is in North by Northwest that Cary Grant’s middle initial “O” literally stands for NOTHING. It’s zero as a place-holder. Is that why he could be mistaken for Kaplan on a metaphysical level in the first place—there’s no one there to start with. It’s no mistake I think that Hitchcock had him working in advertising.
In terms of what I’ll refer to “ideas balanced with mayhem,” I was definitely conscious of it. I wasn’t interested in writing a deconstructivist thriller, where I hollow out all the genre gambits, and turn it into a formal-polemicist kind of thing. The Europeans do that really well, but I don’t.
I set a rule for myself early on that any ideas, either political or philosophical, have to come out of a character, or be on the action line. For example, if I want to talk about French colonialism, it’s going to be during a chase scene at Robinson’s hotel. Or if I want to talk about Russian oligarchy, it’s going to be in a scene where Kyle’s got to pick up a gun.
I have a lot of love for the genre, particularly when it’s really working, so I wanted (and David Guggenheim was so crucial in helping me getting a frame for it) to make sure the book worked as a thriller first, and then go about layering this other stuff in. That said, even before we had the story I knew I wanted Weaponized to feel like the 21st century: fractured, neon, lonely, and set in a series of geographical non-places. I wanted to write a thriller that didn’t feel embalmed. Continue reading ›