Non-Fiction: “How To Archer” by Sterling Archer

Sterling Archer is the world’s greatest secret agent. And while the FX series that details his escapades (titled after himself, naturally) is animated, one shouldn’t assume that means it’s fictitious. After all, one knows what it means when one assumes. It means you’re a dick.

Mr. Archer was asked to write a how-to book on espionage for HarperCollins. Unfortunately, Mr. Archer thought that they were asking him to write his memoirs:

“A how-to book?! A book can’t teach someone how to be equal parts deadly and sexy! That’s like asking a cobra to write a book about how to be a cobra!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but a how-to book is what you just signed a contract to write.”

I pause, thinking about my options. And about money. And John Huston. And cobras.

“Could it have a chapter about cobras?” [xiii]

SPOILER ALERT: there is no chapter about cobras. And don’t think he doesn’t ever let that go.

And so, Mr. Archer sets about writing 30,000 words of how to espionage. Or spy; whatever. I believe the greatest compliment I can give Mr. Archer is: for (or, in spite of) all of his epic poonhoundery, he is a rather kick-ass spy, and he gives us a lot of information. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “how-to” book, though; more of an overview.

Anyway. The bulk of the overview is on the day-to-day work that is espionage. He does warn us, however, that he has mixed feelings about giving all of his trade secrets away in trade paperback form:

In addition to possibly enjeopardizing my life at some point in the future, sharing my secrets of tradecraft is wildly irresponsible: I bet this book won’t be in stores twenty minutes before some dumb idiot kid catches himself on fire trying to make a Molotov cocktail (see Molotov Cocktail, page 84). But that’s HarperCollins’s problem. And apparently they have the best lawyers in the world. ^6
^6: So good luck with your lawsuit, anguished mother of that dumb idiot kid who caught himself on fire. [1]

Oh right, PS, there are footnotes throughout, which are not only hilarious, but also count towards the overall word count.

Mr. Archer jumps right into Things That A Spy Does That Is Not Drinking Or Screwing. Essentially, there’s a bunch of alphabetical indexes for various categories. Found under “General Tradecraft” is this explanation of Dead Drop:

A dead drop is a secret location that makes it possible for two (or more) agents to exchange information without having to meet in person. One agent places the information in the dead drop — for example, a mailbox. He then uses a prearranged signal to alert a second agent that a drop has been made — for example, a small red flag on the outside of the . . . Goddamn it. An hour of research. To basically just learn how the U.S. Postal Service works. [7]

He goes into a bit more depth in the weaponry section. A little bit. [just the tip?]

While the flare gun — also known as a Very pistol — was originally designed for use as a signalling device, you can also use it to shoot people. People who then catch on fire. [25]

Mr. Archer is also very knowledgeable on makes of pistols. For those wondering (which should be all of you), he prefers a Walther PPK to the American-made Colt .45, because a, it’s smaller and therefore doesn’t ruin the fall of his suit, and also b, shut up.

When discussing poisons, Mr. Archer does not help to discourage an idea that a dear friend of mine has: namely, that I (and another dear friend) write for the ArcherTV show:

Often these poisons are fast acting: if you got hit in the neck with a dart tipped with poison[^47] from the tiny Phyllobates terribilis, also known as the Poison Dart Frog (holy shit – true story – I just this second got why they call them that) you’d be dead before you reached the end of this sentence[^48]
^47: They say stress is the silent killer. But poison darts are also pretty damn quiet.
^48: If you happened to be reading that sentence when you got neck-darted. [43]

I can hear Sarah confirming now: Shit happens! People get shot in the neck with darts! [Silent, poison darts.]

Torture (or, interrogation techniques) is one aspect of espionage in which Mr. Archer does not engage. Mainly because it’s messy, but also, it’s controversial.

Torture is one of those things that Americans constantly whine about (e.g., the inhumane treatment of cows), but then they go out and exhibit the exact behavior (e.g., gobbling down a big platter of delicious sliders) that perpetuates the necessity of that thing in the first place.

Americans are repelled by the very thought of their government’s sanctioning torture, and yet they demand to not be blown up by terrorists. But it’s the exact same principle. Except that the cows are now terrorists — a chilling thought in and of itself — and national security is now a steaming plate of hot, juicy miniburgers. And you can’t have your sliders and eat ’em too, folks. [60]

Once Mr. Archer divulges as many secrets about the spy trade as he can (which is quite a lot, actually), he still has about 15,000 words remaining. So he gives us a section on cocktails [alcoholic] and cocktails [waitresses] to help round out the lesson.

The Alcoholic Cocktails section is also an alphabetic compendium, and while I, a renowned alcoholic, am familiar with a lot of these recipes (and have, in fact, improved upon many), it is worth it to read the recipes if only for Mr. Archer’s wit and wisdom.

Moscow Mule
I was worried that, given the overall espionage theme of this book, the Moscow Mule might seem like too obvious a choice. But then I realized go write your own fucking book. [85]

Why doesn’t anyone drink sidecars anymore? Or, for that matter, ride around in them? Because I can’t think of a single thing I would rather do than get totally ripped on a thermos full of these babies while somebody motorcycles me around town and country in an actual sidecar. [89]

Whiskey Sour
Oh my God. If I’d known that America had a gomme syrup-based economy, I would’ve invested in whatever stuff gomme syrup is made out of. I can’t do that, however, because I obviously have no idea what that stuff is. The only thing I know is that Woodhouse is in trouble. [91]

(According to the footnotes throughout the section, recipes keep popping up with gomme syrup as a major factor, and sadly, Mr. Archer’s valet Woodhouse is out getting oranges and is unable to define gomme syrup for Mr. Archer. Mr. Archer is going to pain Woodhouse dearly upon his return.)

Mr. Archer also discusses dining, style, how to finance your operations both personal and professional, and how to sex up the ladies, both amateur and professional. (Tip: Keep the money in your sock, keep your sock on your foot.) He also includes a handy, hand-drawn map of the brothels found in Phuket, Thailand. Finally, he has one last index: brief information of all the nations in the world (that are worth knowing). Even Andorra:

This tiny principality is actually a co-principality, meaning it’s ruled by two princes. Which makes me wonder: What ever happened to the Spin Doctors? Were they all murdered? [159]

I would recommend this title for anyone who has ever seen the television show Archer, as well as those with a sense of humor. But there are some stories he tells where it’s helpful to have some knowledge of the escapades he’s revealed on the show.

The only thing missing from this tome of excellence is one sweet, spotted ocelot named Babou. Without him, it’s like … Meowschwitz in here.

(Sorry — couldn’t help myself.)

Grade for How To Archer: 5 stars

(no seriously, if that fox-eared asshole Babou had made an appearance it would have easily made that sixth star.)


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