Syren's Song. Claude Berube. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015.
Since 2001, the landscape of warfare has drastically changed. Drones, armed non-state actors, and private security firms have become common on the battlefield, and their influence continues to evolve and grow. While their involvement in the future of warfare is uncertain, more than likely they will be as commonplace in future conflicts as tanks, airplanes, and submarines are today. In his latest book, Claude Berube offers readers a vivid glimpse of this possible future.
In Claude Berube’s second novel, Syren’s Song, the Sri Lankan Navy is decimated when the resurgent Sea Tigers employ an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) alongside their traditional tactic of suicide vessels. To fight back, the Sri Lankan government issues a letter of marque to a U.S. private security firm. The firm is run by Connor Stark, a former U.S. Naval Officer and main character in Berube’s first novel, The Aden Effect. The book follows Stark and his crew, along with a cast of other returning characters, as they seek out the Tigers’ hidden base of operations, blurring the lines between foreign policy and private security.
Syren’s Song is a great story, but it also provides readers with some food for thought on the future of warfare at sea. Martin Dempsey recently commented on the importance of fiction in his foreword to the Atlantic Council’s War Stories from the Future, where he wrote, “In this place, we can consider new problems we might soon face or contemplate novel ways to address old problems. It sparks the imagination, engenders flexible thinking, and invites us to explore challenges and opportunities we might otherwise overlook.” In Syren’s Song, Berube gives readers the space to explore multiple aspects of warfare.
Readers are pulled into a world in which a non-state actor leverages technology that has yet to be used in war to overcome a conventional military. After discovering a rare earth material needed to make tactical EMPs, the Tigers use 3D printing to manufacture weapons that give them a competitive advantage at sea. To fund their enterprise, they receive financial backing from a foreign defense firm who plans to use their technology to make weapons to sell to their own government.
How might non-state actors weaponize nascent technologies to dominate conventional military forces? How would we address foreign defense firms who financially enable non state actors to build capabilities and capacity? These, and others, are excellent questions raised by Syren's Song.
Additionally, Berube provides an alternative view of private security firms than the conventional wisdom. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, Blackwater and Erik Prince left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the defense community when it comes to private military corporations. Highland Maritime, the firm owned by Connor Stark couldn’t be further from this image. The employees of Highland Maritime still reflect the military values of the uniforms they once wore. Could private security firms help us better address piracy concerns in areas of the world that the U.S. doesn’t want to get involved?
Many references are made throughout the novel of events that took place in the Aden Effect, and their impact on the characters in Syren’s Song. Fortunately, the reader isn’t left feeling like they are left out in the cold in the process. Berube does an excellent job of character development within the confines of this novel. If anything, he entices readers who are unfamiliar with his previous novel, to go back and read his first book.
Claude Berube has a gift for novel writing. He has created a fantastic story that introduces readers to the possibilities of an insurgency at sea, potential uses for nascent technologies, and positive attributes of private security firms. Syren’s Song belongs in the genre of thrillers written by popular and well-known authors such as James Rollins and Clive Cussler.
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