Art imitates life. But does life imitate art? The superficial similarities between real-life neuroscience Ph.D. student James Holmes, the shooter at the Aurora, Colorado massacre, and the villain of Stephen Hunter’s not-too-well-written thriller Soft Target are uncanny. The fictional mastermind in Hunter’s book is a genius-level, upper-middle class white kid who is bored with the world. He recruits some jihadis to attack a mall (loosely modeled after the Mall of America) in a Mumbai-style attack to provide him with a little stimulation. He wants to turn the mall into the ultimate first-person multiplayer shoot-em-up game and commits the act not for money, not even for power, but just to do something way cool.
Any good novelist captures his life and times, so it is no surprise that Hunter, a competent writer who sometimes rises to brilliance in the action genre, should also capture the political spirit of the age. When news of the attack spreadw in his story, Hunter describes the reactions of “the superintendent of state police … Colonel Douglas Obobo … the son of a Kenyan father and American mother … educated at Harvard Law.” Obobo immediately knows who the perp is, who it has got to be:
Some crazed white militia, some NRA offshoot, some screwball Tea Party gone berserk. In his mind, one never could tell about the right in this country, particularly deep in the glowering Midwest, where men clung to guns and religion, cursed bitterly as America changed, and still believed, fundamentally, in the old ways.
Unfortunately Obobo is wrong; and because the mall is a “gun-free zone,” the evil boy genius’ not very bright killers drive the crowds before them like sheep before wolves — until someone who didn’t get the word decides to fight back and kills the perps.
Hunter’s evil boy genius never sees himself as evil at all. The concept is totally foreign to him. He lives in a universe in which the concept of evil has no meaning. And when the hero eventually guns him down, the genius mastermind’s only regret is that in the game of real life there isn’t a restart button to do it all again. He dies without regrets, without remorse.