"Unidimensional Q"

"Thought of the Day," April 3, 1998

In <Run>, I realize that, for Adam Hall to pursue the theme of Quiller's expulsion from the Bureau and the harm it causes his psyche, he has to, in pretty short order, get him out of the Bureau, give us a quick rundown on his post-Bureau life and how it just won't work, set up the meeting with Pepperidge, and go from there.

One problem I've always had with this is that it requires us to believe that Quiller is one of the most one-dimensional individuals imaginable.  Our picture of Quiller's life outside the Bureau is of fending off smooth-talking spook personnel hunters, bar-hopping, crashing cars, exaggerated sexual performances with aspiring flight attendants, and snacking on sardines.  As Penny Fielding has put it, this is all "rather sad."

This is not the picture I'd gotten of Quiller in the previous <BTMs>.  Quite the contrary, my image of Quiller is similar to the picture I've built up of Adam Hall (though neither really influences the other):  incredibly curious, inventive, resolutely in a state of becoming, and the creator of new and unexpected facets to his personality.

One element of the evidence for this--for Q, at least--lies in the sheer volume of things he knows about (ballistics, engines, sleep, firearms, explosives, dreams, martial arts, physics, chemistry, psychology, hang-gliding, physiology, languages, physical fitness, acting, cryptology, yoga, driving, suicide patterns, mnemonic processes, meditation, flying, critical path analysis, geography, meteorology, and on and on and on).  I'd always thought that, with his encyclopedic knowledge base (and most of these areas of knowledge do not represent passing interests, but deep enough learning to qualify Q as an expert), it would be rather easy for him to create a very interesting professional path that did not involve intelligence work, but which would more than satisfy his craving for living on the brink.

A second reason to suspect the picture of the one-dimensional Quiller is that Q's personality has so many different forms of expression.  As evidence of this, I cite the number of roles he's played as an espionage agent (from flustered auto mechanic to smooth civil servant to avaricious Mafiya chieftain), together with the endlessly shifting modes of expression those roles demand.  That takes extraordinary sensitivity (because it encompasses so much human experience) and flexibility (because it shifts from instant to instant).  When he "becomes" someone else in the field, Quiller isn't just deceiving others:  like any good actor, he must have an elevated sense of sympatico to let him pick up on those behaviors which will allow a realistic portrayal to his "audience," often comprised only of one person.  This type of personality is usually marked by a high degree of creativity and (perhaps) excessive receptivity to stimuli.  However, it is not characteristic of the type person who will "go crazy out there" if a single avenue of expression is closed off.

Finally, I offer as evidence against the one-dimensional Quiller the extraordinary facility with verbal and nonverbal communication he displays.  Many times, when I read Q's conversations, I marvel at how incredibly adroit he is with answers and with communicating in the smoothest possible way.  No matter whether he's chatting up a woman, or defusing an angry confrontation, or pushing someone to and past their limits, or consoling a shattered comrade, Quiller's communication is appropriate, humane, measured, sensitive, controlled, spontaneous, and adaptive--everything, in other words, that people in communication studies tell us communication should be.  It's hard for me to imagine that anyone who could communicate that well would not be able to find some other form of expression than espionage.

To summarize, I find the picture of a Quiller so needful of the Bureau's controlled primitivism to be lacking in credibility.  There's simply too much to the man to assume that for him, it's either the Bureau or nothing.  As I say, I know why the unidimensional Q is necessary, but, like other aspects of the opening chapters of <Run>, I just think it's a bit overplayed.

-- IM