14

I'm sure I read this in an anthology collecting science fiction stories from various authors. English language. I don't remember the common theme (if there really was one). I think I checked this book out from a library back around the late 1990s (but it may have been after the turn of the century).

The story I remember was evidently meant to be something of a spoof of cloak-and-dagger stories which are full of disguises and double agents and so forth.

Here's what I remember:

  1. At one point in the story -- not necessarily the first scene -- the director of one of the USA's secret intelligence agencies is testifying before Congress. I don't remember if he's in front of a House committee, a Senate committee, or a joint committee. For the sake of argument, let's just say he's facing a bunch of Senators.

  2. The director is being questioned about the activities of his top agent. From the things we are told, it sounds as if this agent is the American version of James Bond, magnified by a hundred. He has achieved miraculous results, implied to have done it single-handedly, on many occasions. The director goes on and on about this. I don't remember the top agent's name or code name, so let's go with my arbitrary selection of "Brad Forester."

    What I remember best from the director's testimony goes along these lines (loosely paraphrased from my imperfect memory):

    "And now your agency is submitting a proposed budget of 105 trillion dollars. Do you seriously expect us to give you that much?"

    "Yes, Senator. The appraised value of all the real property in the USA is about 15 trillion dollars. Last year, Agent Forester saved the entire country from being conquered or destroyed on seven separate occasions, and that costs money. Seven times fifteen equals one hundred and five."

    (Of course that makes no sense in terms of "how to budget the taxpayers' money," and I was sure the author knew that.)

  3. The director finally leaves the room and, while moving toward his next destination, hastily starts ripping off his disguise to reveal (to the reader, at least) that he is, in fact, Secret Agent Brad Forester! Apparently he plays various roles and rarely has time to stop and catch his breath before he must run off to his next appointment or dangerous undercover mission. (I think there may have been other indications that the employee roster of the secret agency in question was not much larger than just "Brad Forester under various names!" But not necessarily just him -- for instance, he may have had a gorgeous female secretary; I can't say that he definitely did or didn't.)

  4. There may be some sort of subsequent "epic showdown" between Brad Forester and his current arch-nemesis with some sort of futuristic Weapon of Mass Destruction, but I don't recall a single detail. Nor do I recall how the story ended (but I am sure that it was meant to be funny or ironic in some way).

  5. As you may have gathered, I got the distinct impression that the author was trying to do an over-the-top parody of the James Bond archetype, and/or of the world-saving pulp heroes of an earlier generation, who always seemed to have the necessary skills and knowledge to let them handle any given emergency. I'm thinking of Doc Savage in particular (and, to some extent, other pulp heroes of the 1930s and 1940s, such as The Shadow, who was also a master of disguise).

  6. I have an idea that when I read this, many years ago, I recognized the name of the author as someone whose work I had enjoyed in the past. Possibly someone who frequently had a strong humorous streak showing in his stories, such as Robert Sheckley. But I don't swear it was Sheckley -- and even if it was, that doesn't help me much, because he wrote hundreds of stories during his career. (I spent a little time looking at his Bibliography on ISFDB without spotting anything that was obviously this story. Some Googling found for me the full text of his short-short story "Disguised Agent," and that definitely was not this one, although it certainly made fun of some of the cloak-and-dagger tropes.)

  • 2
    It sounds a bit like Lin Carter's Hawtley Quicksilver, only I think those were set in the future, not on present day earth. – Simon Bucher-Jones Jan 19 '18 at 9:56
  • Looks like Lin Carter did two stories in that series, and both were published as "short novels" that were each half of a paperback, bundled together in each case with a story of similar length from another author. Near as I can tell from ISFDB, each Quicksilver adventure was in the range of 70-80 pages in length in mass-market paperback format. I'm sure the one I'm remembering was much shorter; maybe around 20 pages (or less?) in the hardcover anthology I was reading at the time. – Lorendiac Jan 19 '18 at 11:49
  • Title reminds me of William F. Nolan's "The Fasterfaster Affair" but it doesn't match. – user14111 May 28 '18 at 15:40
9

This one's been bugging me, and I finally found it!

It's Pulpworld by R. K. Lyon

Here's the exchange you remembered as it appears in the story.

The questioning passed to Senator Hemiwit. "Director Argus, in your report as part of the justification for continued funding of the FBI, you list the value of property recovered by the Bureau in the past year. Most of the items, three hundred seventeen dollars' worth of recovered brooms, six hundred thirty-six dollars in cats strayed across state lines, and so forth seem reasonable, but you list one item of eighty-seven times the entire capital assets of the United States."

"Operator √2 saved the United States from total destruction eighty-seven times last year."

The ironic ending you mention is that

the agent sits down to enjoy reading a science fiction story about a crazy, impossible world, that is our world.

It appeared in Microcosmic Tales, a fertile source of story ID questions.

  • Thank you. That's definitely the one. – Lorendiac Aug 21 '18 at 1:06
0

Could be the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison.

  • Can you provide any more details that would suggest this is the book you expect it to be? – Edlothiad May 28 '18 at 15:03
  • The "Stainless Steel Rat" stories take place on planets far away from the Earth. He's a thief/conman, not a secret agent. – JRE May 28 '18 at 17:23
  • The Stainless Steel Rat, James DeGriz, did go to Earth, in the one with time travel, "The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World." His boss, Inskipp, never testified before any kind of committee though, as far as I can remember. – mrflash818 May 28 '18 at 17:45
  • @Saulus -- please remember that I'm just looking for a self-contained short story that was one of several items collected in an anthology. Not a complete novel published as its own book. Also, I'm sure that the short story was written in the third person, as opposed to the way Slippery Jim diGriz always narrates his own adventures in the first person. – Lorendiac May 28 '18 at 18:21
  • Sorry. I was too eager to answer. – Saulus May 29 '18 at 1:04

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