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Endgame Enigma
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Background

This was an experiment in combining some of the elements of popular thriller-adventure fiction with ingredients of SF Perhaps writing The Proteus Operation had whetted my appetite for real-world settings, with the consequence that this was pitched a little closer to home than the earlier books.

The Soviets did me a disservice by letting their empire collapse shortly after the book was published, which rendered the background invalid overnight. When I conceived and wrote Endgame Enigma, which would have been in 1985 through 1986, neither I nor very many others--if any--guessed that the Soviet empire, which had withstood through the best part of a century so many predictions of imminent demise, was indeed tottering into its final few years, and by 1991 would be in the process of becoming history. The speed with which these events overtook the astonished world may be gauged from my own experience as a guest of the annual European science-fiction convention, which was held that year, 1991, in Volgograd (the former Stalingrad), in the U.S.S.R. A few days before I was due to leave on an Aeroflot flight from Dublin, an agitated travel agent called me to ask if I still wanted to make the trip.

"Well, of course I do, I replied," surprised. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because of everything that's going on there?"

"How do you mean? What's going on?" (I should explain that I haven't owned a TV for longer than I can remember, and seldom open a newspaper--and then usually just to do the "Crosaire" cryptic crossword in the Irish Times. I regularly have to call the phone operator to check what day it is, and I've gone a week past the summertime clock adjustment without being aware of it.)

"There's a civil war going on," she told me. "Tanks in the streets, people getting shot."

"And the planes are still flying?"

"Well, yes. . . . I suppose so."

I was thrilled. It was happening--ordinary people actually standing up to one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times. "Well, if they can face tanks, the least I can do is be there," I said. "Sure, I still want to go."

But so swift were the events that by the time I got there it was all over. When I checked in for the flight, the board behind the desk said DUBLIN-LENINGRAD-MOSCOW. By the time I returned, the flight announcement read MOSCOW-ST. PETERSBURG-DUBLIN. There were already pictures of the former Czar in windows and adorning souvenirs and gifts. There's something reassuring in looking at the march of history and noting how consistently it seems that the oppressors end up being buried by their intended victims. Nero's Rome has crumbled, but Christianity flourishes worldwide. The Nazis are gone, but the Jewish people prosper. And now Stalinism and the horrors of the gulag are no more, and Russia is again becoming a part of European culture.

So what's the point of reissuing a book set in circumstances that will never, now, come to pass? Well, for one thing, obviously, the story is still the same, and as the whole realm of science-fiction, fantasy, myth, and legend attests, the setting doesn't have to be factual or even plausible for a story to do its job and be enjoyable. But beyond that, this is a story involving political realities that remain constant beneath the superficial ebbs and flows of the particular power rivalries that happen to constitute the present, and which it pays to remain mindful of precisely because they are no longer reiterated in every other morning's headlines.

The prime reason for forming government has always been to protec individuals from the violence they inflict on each other when each is left to face the prospect of survival as a law unto himself. Today's democratic nation state seeks to achieve this through one system of law before which all are judged equally, to which each individual forfeits the right to make and execute his own law privately. However, no such arbitration applies to affairs between governments, and the state of war that was once the lot of tribal groups reemerges periodically as collisions between nations. The authority of God is no longer compelling as a restraining influence--and was never all that notably effective, anyway--and those of us raised in the tradition of individualism and freedom are suspicious of moves toward an international order with all its socialist underpinnings and ramifications.

What, then, will contain passions and excesses on the global scale? I have no glib formula to offer. Some place their faith in reason (is there not a certain attendant irony in such a phrase?), others in the spread of better understanding as modern communications dissolve barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding, while some have hope in the ability of technology and industry to eradicate the differences in wealth that they believe are the causes of strife. But the question needs to be asked, especially in these comparatively tranquil times, for it can never be repeated too often that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

 
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