Alec Grey is summoned from his task of routine Soviet surveillance to pursue a shadowy Russian agent through the streets of London, racing against time itself to prevent his masters from obtaining the west's ultimate technological secret.
One of his countrymen is the first casualty of the darkest of secret weapons.
One of his colleagues is a Soviet mole.
One of his futures is unthinkable.
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Set in an alternate history London, in a 1961 nobody's ever been to, Darkmatter is a re-imagined cold war in which there never was a second world war, and as such, no Manhattan Project, no atomic weapons and no Soviet Union to steal them. Actually, there's still a Soviet Union, but they're busy stealing something much more dangerous.
The physicists who brought us "the bomb" have brought this lot "the project," a barely understood, barely working technology to project things through time.
You don't want to think about what the KGB has in mind to project through time if they manage to pinch it.
One of the difficulties in setting about to write a cold war espionage novel is that the genre has been both picked clean by decades worth of earlier authors, and perhaps more to the point, corrupted by far too many martinis shaken, not stirred.
Legend has it that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, remarked to Lady Anne Rothmere, his then future wife, that he intended to write a "sort of comic book for grownups." The book in question was Casino Royale, the first James Bond novel. While Fleming had been a minor intelligence officer during the second world war, the creator of James Bond knew nothing of substance about spying on the Soviet Union.
The remarkable success of James Bond largely defined the structure of espionage fiction. Even authors who did have backgrounds in intelligence have structured their books to some extent as Ian Fleming did. There's always a "bad guy."
This isn't how the cold war actually happened — it was rare that western intelligence found itself dealing with identifiable individuals or identifiable motives behind the iron curtain. They certainly had no agents who resembled James Bond.
The history of the cold war is compelling for this reason — it's a war of intellect rather than handguns, for the most part.
In setting Darkmatter in an alternate history — a "re-imagined" 1961 — I got to dispense with James Bond in his entirety, and perhaps get slightly closer to a story that truly reflects this period.