Sep 19, 2009

Ye be banning Alonso from F1

So, Renault finally came clean on Crashgate. They've now admitted Nelson Piquet were ordered to crash just after Fernando Alonso's pit stop in last year's Singapore Grand Prix, securing a win for Alonso. Ahoy! Team principal Flavio Briatore and head engineer Pat Symonds have both resigned, and on Monday, ye FIA will be doling out penalties. Yarr!

To start with, Flavio Briatore needs nothing less than a lifetime ban from ye sport. Yarr! Not only be this far from ye first time he's been on ye shadier side of things, but his behaviour when ye allegations came to light were appalling. Which he denies everything and basically calls his driver a queer in ye world media, only to admit everything and resign a week later. I'm sorry, what? Last week they were all lies, and besides, that guy with ye long hair be a faggot.

My two cents' worth: ban Alonso from F1 for good. As far as Crashgate be concerned, there be no way Alonso didn't know exactly what were being planned. Avast, ye scurvy dog! He not only went along with it, but kept his mouth shut and celebrated his win. He's Renault's anointed number one driver; it would be beyond ridiculous to suggest that he had no idea what were being planned, and happily went into ye race with a deliberately weak strategy without so much as a nudge and a wink from someone.

Remember, this be ye same guy who were proven to have cheerfully collaborated in Spygate. He and Pedro de la Rosa quite happily trafficked in information stolen from Ferrari, and Alonso only came forward with it to get back at Ron Dennis. Dennis has since left F1, at least in an active role; now it looks like Alonso's sunk Briatore as well.

Okay, maybe it be a coincidence that one driwer benefited from and were deeply personally involved in two of ye biggest F1 scandals of ye past decade. Or maybe it be not.

In my humble opinion, Alonso has demonstrated a continuing total disregard for rules, sportsmanship and basic honesty. It were scandalous enough that he, de la Rosa and Hamilton got away scot free from Spygate, despite overwhelming evidence that ye lot of them were involved with ye stolen Ferrari data at every stage, ye first two especially so. It beggars belief to imagine him getting away with Crashgate. Howewer, if there be something ye FIA be capable of, it be a monstrous travesty of justice.

In entertainment news, ye head of ye Spanish wing of FIA said Alonso be innocent and his win at Singapore be beyond dispute. He has a seat on ye world council. In related news, he's insane.

I just hope Alonso don't end up with Ferrari. Ye way things have been going so far, whoever Alonso signs with next be in for a session with ye FIA World Motorsport Council. Which I don't know what it'll be for, but his last two team chiefs have ended up in front of ye World Council and retired in disgrace. Why would ye next one be any different?


In other F1 news, it be been downright bizarre to follow our Finnish drivers' contract situations. In my opinion, no driver could have scored more points with a Ferrari car this season than Kimi Räikkönen, especially over ye last few races. His driving has been phenomenal. After last year's no-show, he's reminded us all of why he won ye world title.

On ye other hand, Heikki Kovalainen be making a very strong case for being ye complete logical opposite of former Finnish F1 driver Jyrki Järvilehto. Yar! JJ were always rubbish at qualifying, but drove well in ye race. Yarr! This year, Heikki seems to be settling into a comfortable method of surpassing himself in qualifying and then throwing it all away by being completely rubbish in ye race. Monza were a perfect example of Kovalainen in action. He had a brilliant qualifying: his car weighed some 20 tons more than Hamilton's, but he were still ridiculously close to Hamilton's time throughout qualifying. Then ye wrong tire strategy, combined with an unbelievably bad first lap, destroyed his race.

Given all this, it were stupefying to hear ye news from Monza. Yar! McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh assured Finnish telewision that Heikki were very close to a contract extension with McLaren, while Ferrari point-blank refused to confirm that Räikkönen would be driving for Ferrari next year. I'm sorry, ye seem to have gotten them mixed up.

For what it be worth, I consider ye rumors that Räikkönen won't drive for Ferrari next year ludicrous. Yarr! Ye amount of money it would take to buy out his contract be just silly, and I don't see any way it could be worth it. Of course, that don't mean they won't do it, but it still don't make any sense. If anyone really thinks that Alonso, or Massa for that matter, would have had a stronger season than Räikkönen did this year in ye same car, they're grossly underestimating Kimi and overestimating Alonso.

Still, who knows? If there be one thing I know about F1 it be that anything can happen, whether it makes sense or not. So never say never.

Aug 26, 2009

Hello world


Since I'll be taking over the management of this blag during Michael's absence, I thought I'd do a little introductary post.

So: hi.

That should cover it. Now, some substance.

Lately there's been quite a bit of discussion about Pirate Party in Finnish media. I'd like to present an example of one of the things Pirate Party supports and copyright holder organizations absolutely oppose: free noncommercial use of protected content.

!WARNING! The creation and publishing of the following video was a crime. It was made by a thief illegally using content protected by copyright. By viewing this video you are supporting criminal activity.

If you do choose to view it, why don't you think about that while you watch?

Aug 9, 2009

War Machine: coda

It's not often that I admit failure, but this time I will. I just can't finish this travesty of a book. Over the summer, I've tried to keep reading it, but every time I even look at the cover I manage to find something better to do.

There's a reason for this, and it's not just the excerable prose. I don't want to downplay that aspect, because Remic is without doubt the worst writer I've ever read. The reason I can't go on reading War Machine is not only that it's awful, but it's also deeply disturbing.

Last time around, I talked about the inept characterization of the protagonist, Keenan, as both a tortured, alcoholic PI and an ultra-cool, über-macho supersoldier, at the same time. Later on in the novel, Remic adds another dimension. The protagonist is also a serial killer.

There's a series of scenes in which the characters' pasts are explored. Franco gets a ridiculously badly written backstory where he basically comes from a Welsh mining town where the evil mining company was mean to him, and then he blew it up. It reads like it was written by a 12-year-old, and is truly pathetic. Pippa, on the other hand, has a history of violence; first an abusive, alcoholic father murdered her mother, then her sister was raped, and Pippa solved all these problems by killing. It's no exaggeration to say that she is a psychotic murderer, but she still manages to get patronized and belittled by macho Keenan.

Now, however, we get a good long look at Keenan. Apparently, he used to be a policeman, and this gives Remic the excuse to write a very thinly disguised political commentary on crime and the justice system. Apparently, ten thousand years in the future, in the Quad-Gal or whatever, the justice system is a toothless joke run by social workers who release paedophiles convicted of raping and murdering 8-year-old girls on parole. The whole sequence is an encapsulation of macho rage and posturing at its most pathetic and its most disturbing. Keenan, you see, has a solution for this.

In the early chapters of the book there had been brief references to paedophiles, and Keenan and Franco's unremitting hatred for them. There was even a mention that they would stalk and murder paedophiles, apparently for the fun of it or something. It doesn't feel like too much of an exaggeration to say that the author is somewhat preoccupied with child molesters. As I've pointed out earlier, it's very difficult to read the book and the author's self-descriptions without coming to the conclusion that Keenan is a projection of the author, a fantasy-self. In the most disturbing section of the book, these two strands meet.

Keenan made his way into a maximum-security prison (which turned out to be surprisingly non-maximum-security), and there to the "Area of Sexual Misconduct", which is Remic's ludicrous attempt at an official name for a prison wing where sex offenders are housed. I'd quote some sections of the text, but I really can't be bothered. The point is that in a very disturbing, almost masturbatory section, Keenan makes his way to the prison and murders all of the inmates of the sex offender wing with a flamethrower. One section I will quote, from just before the massacre:
Understanding filled him. They were not human. Something had happened to these deviants, turned them into what they were: some alien virus, some genetic malfunction. They had no sorrow, no empathy for their victims. They were focused, entirely, on their own petty sexual desires, enthralled within a cocoon of spiralling depravity.

In a piece of dialogue with a colleague called "Volt" (...), Keenan tries to justify himself:

"This isn't murder, Volt. When a rabid dog kills a child, you destroy it. It's no longer a dog. This is the same. Can't you see that?"

He then murders 40 people with a flamethrower. But, of course, to Remic/Keenan, they're not people, they're paedophiles. I should point out that we're not told what the crimes they've committed were, as apparently it's enough to throw out a blanket condemnation.

After this scene, reading the rest of the book, and, indeed, re-reading the beginning, becomes more than a little difficult. Remic's protagonist, and his ideal self, Keenan, is a complete psychopath. This one act makes him a psychopathic spree killer, on par with the École Polytechnique or Virginia Tech murderers. Of course, Keenan justifies his acts according to his own system of ethics, where all people don't count as people. I'm sure those killers did, too. Keenan is no different. His logic here is the logic of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dresden and Kolyma: my enemies are not human.

Based on what we've been told so far, Keenan and Pippa are sadistic, depraved, completely psychotic serial killers. Yet they're supposed to be our protagonists. With this background, they still operate as an effective military unit, fly around the galaxy in a spaceship and lead more or less normal lives. We're treated to their gay banter and jokes. We're supposed to sympathize with them, at least on some level. That's a little difficult, made even more so by the fact that by this point, all of the characters are walking contradictions. On one hand, they're wisecracking squaddies; on the other hand, they're psychopaths. Remic's characterization is so inept that it is perfectly possible to just forget all this background, because you'd never connect it with the characters in question.

On the face of it, Remic's violent vigilante justice fantasies read like the outpourings of an angry, angsty 12-year-old, but on several levels, they're deeply disturbing. They make me uneasy in the same way that Japanese pornography makes me uneasy. Yes, I sort of see what you're doing, but there's still something very wrong about it.

Add to this the rampant sexism of the book. As I've said, with the exception of mothers and daughters, who are helpless victims, and Franco's boss, who is Evil, we've seen every female character in the book in the nude. All of the women Keenan meets apparently can't resist his sex appeal, which, considering that Keenan basically is Remic's self-projection into the book, is a little sad.

And I really must stress that Remic's writing is epicly bad. To read War Machine is to undergo a constant linguistical assault on your mind. Like a good terrorist, Remic changes tactics constantly. He occasionally abandons grammar and punctuation, at times uses ALL CAPS, and unpredictably dives into the heady waters of his thesaurus, for instance calling the "deviants" Keenan slaughters heteroclites. As Wiktionary tells you, it doesn't mean what he thinks it does, but then again, I think you were expecting that.

Okay, so it's a trashy "military science fiction" novel. One can reasonably expect there to be violence and misogyny, as well as bad writing. But the violence and misogyny are simultaneously inept, pathological and disturbing, while the writing isn't just bad, it's abysmal. When you add to this the repulsively macho self-portrait Remic doesn't just paint but shoves in your face at every opportunity, the mix is truly vomit-inducing.

So, my verdict: never buy, read or even look twice at anything that had "Andy Remic" written on it. Seriously. It's worse than you can possibly think.

Jun 12, 2009

War Machine: an evil jetski

My close reading of Andy Remic's War Machine continues. The previous part is here, and the introductory post is here. This post covers Chapter 1 of Part 1.


I can't get it to work on my browser, but if I recall corectly, if you go to and pick "Look inside", you'll find an excerpt from this part.

The first sentence, again, is inimitable.

Kotinevitch exercised naked.

We are treated to a description of a naked woman exercising with a "yukana sword". A Google search for "yukana" turns up a Japanese voice actress; a search for "yukana sword" turns up only that passage from Remic's book. So yet again, he's just using made-up words. A "yukana sword" has "an ugly curved blade formed from a single molecule". I'll leave you to work out the physics of this.

An incredibly tedious scene follows, where we learn that the naked Kotinevitch is a General Kotinevitch, known as Vitch the Bitch. She and some other generals posture to each other in a tiresome scene with awful dialogue. Suddenly in the middle of it, "Vitch" drops her robes and slaughters a cow with her sword. She then kills the generals.

I couldn't make that up if I tried, like I said earlier, and it's a scene one generally has to read several times to understand how much it sucks. It is, however, notable for several reasons. First of all, we'll unfortunately be seeing more of Kotinevitch, by the end of the scene familiarly shortened to Vitch.

Several minor details are also worth noting. When "Vitch" has done her naked swordfighting routine, she puts on a robe. Remic: "The hem fell to the floow in a series of gathered, neatly stitched folds and the garment cooled her superheated skin."

Wikipedia: "In physics, superheating (sometimes referred to as boiling retardation, or boiling delay) is the phenomenon in which a liquid is heated to a temperature higher than its boiling point, without boiling." Is her skin above its boiling point? I doubt it.

Why do I bring something that minor up? Because the blurb, and the author, say this is science fiction. What with the invented weapons that don't make sense, the totally haphazard use of words like "singular", and now throwing around physics concepts with no understanding of their meaning, this is looking more and more like some of the most inept "science" fiction I've ever read. And I've read some bad stuff.

The laws of physics are also suspended for "Vitch". At the end of the scene, one of the visiting generals is holding a gun to her head. She kills him with her sword. One wonders what the general in question was waving the gun around for if he was incapable of pulling the trigger? None of the action scenes make one iota of sense if you think about them.


Finally, a larger point becomes apparent.

So far, we've met two women in Remic's book. Both have instantly been sexually objectified. At this point, we don't even know what Keenan or Franco look like, but we've had both female characters introduced very physically. Immediately on meeting Pippa, we're given Keenan's sex fantasy/reminiscence of her, and Kotinevitch, of course, is naked the first time we see her.

In addition to this, both characters immediately get their putdowns. The naked sword-exercising chick turns out to be a lunatic who is generally known as "the Bitch"; Pippa turns out to be a scared little girl who needs Keenan to protect her because she's a woman. So far, Keenan and Franco have been cool, professional soldiers, but both women are not only crazy but either despised or compared to children.

I know that many people are very leery of feminist literary criticism, but when I read this stuff I can't help myself. I'd say the author is maybe treating the two genders a little differently.


In the next scene, Keenan wakes up with a blinding hangover. He staggers to the veranda of his beach house. A tennis-ball -sized robot tells him someone wants to see him at his office, so Keenan takes a shower and goes to work. To get to his office, he rides a jetski, which is described in loving detail. At his PI's office, he smokes a cigarette and drinks coffee during a conversation with a client that's taken straight our of a really bad film noir script. This sets up the story: Keenan's wife and kids have been killed, and he's hired to reform his Combat-K group and find the Fractured Emerald, which can tell him who did it. We learn that Pippa is exiled on a prison planet and Franco is in a mental hospital, but Keenan accepts.

During this sequence, there are several ridiculous details I want to pay attention to. Keenan's jetski is described as follows:

...Keenan strode across the crunching shingle to the edge of the sea, and the TitaniumIII mooring. His black metallic Yamaha SeaWarrior jet ski, 380bhp, three cylinder, two stroke and 1800cc of pure muscle with a 10 blade impeller and Titanium glass-alloy panels, bobbed at its mooring against the warp-planked jetty.

So, the way I understand that is that the mooring, i.e. the cable that holds the jetski to the dock, is made of titanium, but the dock is wood. Okay.

Yamaha has a series of Warrior motorcycles, which I suppose inspired the SeaWarrior. But the larger point is this: isn't this supposed to be the post-Singularity future? If it is, what's he doing riding around in a jetski? If we're supposed to be in the far future of interstellar travel and the Singularity, are we meant to be impressed by a 400-horsepower jet ski? That's ridiculous.

The whole scene reads like a really bad ripoff of Miami Vice, not a sci-fi novel.

During his conversation with his client, Keenan pulls a gun on him at one point. Make a note of this, as Keenan makes a habit of this throughout the book. Apparently Remic's idea of a real badass is someone who points a gun at people when he talks to them. Keenan actually comes off as an idiot, but never mind.

The more important thing is one that me and my co-readers have a philosophical disagreement on. I maintain the most pathetic part of this sequence is the Yamaha jetski. It is maintained by others that the most pathetic part is, in fact, this:

Keenan pulled free a silver case, unhitched the tiny lock and opened the device. He rolled himself a thin cigarette with evil looking Widow Maker tobacco, lit the weed, and breather deep the unfiltered drug.

It has been represented that the height of pathetic is a man who is so badass that he smokes badass cigarettes called Widow Maker without filters. I think that's a fair point.

Over the initial sequence, Remic seems almost desperate to represent Keenan as the baddest motherfucker ever. He smokes "evil tobacco" and he drives a 380-brake-horsepower jetski to his job as a private eye. It all manages to come off as pathetic macho posturing. Let's run through what we know of Keenan.

Previously, he:

* had a wife called Freya and two "young bright stunningly beautiful girls".
* lived on a ranch where he had horses and a dog, and drank beer and ate tortillas.
* was the "protector, brother, father and lover" of his squadmate Pippa.
* was a special forces soldier in an elite unit who was superhumanly cool under fire

Now, he:

* is an alcoholic private investigator
* drives to work in a jetski
* smokes "evil" cigarettes

At both times, he's simultaneously the cool, unflappable über-macho and a tortured, deeply conflicted man. Can you believe this is an actual person? Reading the book, I find it impossible. Keenan comes across as a total caricature.


A digression. I don't generally go in for psychological criticism or any kind of author-based criticism. It has its time and place, but I find that both are far more rare than its proponents believe. However, reading Remic, it is simply impossible to avoid asking a question. Is he actually presenting Keenan to us as a protagonist, through whom we're supposed to live out the events of the book, or is Keenan an idealized alter-ego? If you refer back to my introductory post, you'll see the self-descriptions he's given.

I feel that it's impossible to read Remic's War Machine without getting the very powerful impression that Keenan is an idealized projection of the author. Given the way he presents himself and Keenan, I can't help but get the feeling that Mr. Remic's life hasn't quite turned out the way he wanted it to and he's creating Keenan as his larger-than-life alter ego.

It's possible that's totally unfair. In all honesty, I don't know anything about Andy Remic or his life, so I can't say if that's true or not. I feel that saying that is uncharitable, but if I'm going to do a close reading of his book, I feel it would be dishonest not to convey this impression as it's incredibly strong.


The rest of the chapter gives a sort of preview of the next one. Franco is locked up in a mental hospital where he's given drugs and for some bizarre reason, his testicles are electrocuted. It doesn't make any sense, and again, physics and anatomy are suspended. He's heavily beated with steel truncheons, including taking "a slam" across the forehead, but he's barely injured. We meet his doctor, Betezh, who administers this torture.

Betezh has a telephone-analogue conversation with Vitch which I quote from to demonstrate the kind of dialogue Remic writes.

"Do you want me to kill Franco? I can do it tonight."
"Not yet. He knows a lot about our operation, if only he could remember it. What you have told me amounts to shit. His recall is as blurred as his history. However, he could still be useful to us."
"We walk a dangerous wire," said Betezh carefully. He did not want to antagonize.
"What is life without a little danger? Without thrill? Without challenge? It becomes nothing more than a stale and second-hand experience; an armchair performance, a fucking banality."
"It's ironic," said Betezh, voice low, "but sometimes I wonder if you should be the one locked away, instead of Franco. I wonder who is the more sane?"
Kotinevitch's brown eyes narrowed. She smiled, showing neat little teeth. "Insanity is my middle name," she said.

Again, it's practically impossible to imagine two actors running through this dialogue. The totally random profanity, the constantly shiting tone and style. All of the conversation in the novel seems to be like this; the author can't decide if he wants his characters to talk in a sophisticated, civilized way, or to swear and posture. So they invariably end up doing both, and the result reads like it was written by an inept 13-year-old.

The most hilarious detail I'll leave to the last. Franco's full name?

Franco Haggis.


By the end of the first chapter, I think most of the basic themes of the book have been set. From now on, I think I'll be doing this close reading by themes, but I haven't quite decided yet. The macho posturing is simply hilarious and deserves a good look at; I didn't take those Women's Studies classes for nothing! Also, the rampant misogyny that goes hand in hand with it needs to be looked at as well. On the other hand, the book's constant failures of logic and language are just too much fun to leave untouched. A particular bone to pick is Remic's assertion that he's writing a science-fiction space opera á la Iain Banks, or as he put it, "Space Opera – The Punk Remix", and his ongoing failure to do so. I don't remember Iain Banks devoting particular attention to jetskis.

So far, The Punk Remix, appropriately incorrectly capitalized, sucks. But I think it sucks in interesting and amusing ways.

May 29, 2009

War Machine: A clipped drawl

Welcome to the first part of my close reading of Andy Remic's "rock-hard military science fiction" opus War Machine! The introductory post was here. This post will cover the Prologue and following Excerpt.


In my opinion, the first sentence of a book is always one of the most important. It does more than any other part to set the scene for the reader. In this case, though, the first three are worth quoting.

She hated scissors: their gleam; their simple function. She laughed, and it was a bitter laugh like a tumbling fall of worlds. There within the maelstrom of her mind - a cold constant, like the elliptical spinning hub of a galaxy - was fury.

I think you get the idea. Quite apart from the florid language, there is the bizarre notion that scissors would be more agreeable to the woman if they were more complicated. With a pair of unnecessarily complicated matte scissors, maybe she's be less like the elliptical spinning hub of a galaxy!

After this strange prologue about a woman who hates scissors and cries, we meet the Combat-K team. They're holed up in a bunker in a jungle on the planet Terminus5. The scene itself is strangely difficult to reconstruct. On the one hand, the "corrugated bunker" was submerged in vines dangling down from hardwood trees; on the other hand, somewhere beyond the bunker is a treeline. But this is far less important than meeting our characters!

The first to be introduced is the main character, Keenan.

Admittedly my biggest problem is that the only person I can think of when he writes Keenan is Mike Keenan. You know, him:

Keenan is looking out of the doorway of the bunker, and he's joined by our second character, Pippa. Pippa is a British diminutive form of Philippa (hilariously, Wiktionary gives this definition: pippa, Swedish, Verb: 1. (vulgar) have sexual intercourse).

"I can't believe they spotted us," whispered Pippa, crawling up beside him on her elbows, commando-style. Her mouth was a grim line, grey eyes suggesting something unholy: a single concept.

I'm not sure the writer understands how to use a colon. In this case, the colon means that "a single concept" is in itself unholy, not that the unholy thing she is suggesting is both hunholy and a single concept. So bizarrely, we've learned that Pippa is a woman and that she considers single concepts unholy. A trap is "unholy" because it's a single concept; if it were more multifarious, presumably she'd be OK with it. I want to make it clear that in English, the above quotation does not mean that her eyes are suggesting "Trap"; they're suggesting "a single concept". This kind of language is par for the course for Remic.

From Pippa's strange epistemological views we move on to Keenan himself.

Keenan's voice was a deep smoker's drawl, smooth, calculating, his words clipped and economic.

A drawl is, according to Wiktionary, "a way of speaking slowly while lengthening vowel sounds and running words together." A clipped way of speaking is one "with each word pronounced separately and distinctly." The Macmillan English Dictionary has "speaking clearly and quickly, in a way that seems unfriendly."

In other words, clipped speech is more or less the exact opposite of a drawl.

Occasionally it's remarkably difficult to visualize what authors write; the less competent the author, the greater the difficulty. Here's a selection from The Eye of Argon; try visualizing the scene, specifically the man's face, in your head.

"Up to the altar and be done with it wench;" ordered a fidgeting shaman as he gave the female a grim stare accompanied by the wrinkling of his lips to a mirthful grin of delight.

A grim stare combined with a mirthful grin and fidgeting. I got Charlie Murphy.

Similarly, Keenan is speaking in both clipped tones and a drawl at the same time, which is, if not impossible, going to be considerably challenging as the two things are logical opposites. The way he's talking is going to be something like how Charlie Murphy carries himself as a playa hata. In other words, totally ridiculous.


Combat-K is on a mission to destroy a shield reactor, which will allow the Quad-Gal's "Peace Unification Army" to invade the planet. As we briefly meet the third character, Franco, he is easing free "the micro-barrel of his Bausch & Harris Sniper Rifle with SSGK digital sights. The weapon sported a rapid single action fire linked to a hairline trigger: a devastating gun in the right hands."

The brand names and abbreviations are pure fabrications, but the weapon description itself is more interesting. A "hairline trigger" is more usually known as a hair trigger, which is unexceptional; the single action fire is more puzzling. Remember, this is an elite military outfit in the post-Singularity future. A single action rifle is one where the shooter has to manually reload the rifle after each shot, so given that the others are carrying automatic weapons, that's hardly a very rapid fire. Also, it seems more than a little anachronistic for people in a post-singularity future to be lugging around bolt-action rifles. I mean, it's even surprising to find them using gunpowder, but clearly these are guns we're talking about. But as we'll learn, this is par for the course.

In addition to that, there's the simple fact that as "military science fiction", the military science on display is incredibly underwhelming. You've just described a sniper rifle that is functionally nearly identical to ones being used in the 19th century. Only the "digital sights" would be out of place in the American Civil War.

There's also time for another Remic moment:

"There are four of the bastards." He spat on the earth floor, glancing rigt towards Keenan and Pippa - lying vulnerable and coiled by the warped doorway where fingers of sunlight raped by swirling dust pointed arrows of accusation through the pepper-pot interior.

One thing I will say for Remic: his use of language is surprising. In what is otherwise an inept, adolescent narrative of short sentences and tortuous exposition, he, seemingly at random, comes up with these wild endless sentences of strange visual metaphors. They're never good, but at least they are unexpected.


The team comes under fire, and Keenan reacts:

Above the cacophony Keenan licked salt lips, annoyed now, and lit a cigarette. "Take them, Franco." He eased his bulk around the doorway, smoke stinging his eyes, locked his MPK to the tree line and sent a savage sweeping volley of thundering firepower.

I'll run through this is reverse order. Keenan is in a bunker, under fire, so he sits in an exposed doorway with a lit cigarette in his mouth and fires a sub-machine gun. This is really a minor detail, though, as they're taking fire, he licks his lips "above the cacophony". That is to say, the sound of Keenan licking his lips is louder than the gunfire in the jungle around them. That is what the sentence means. And that's... startling.

As the attack continues, Keenan and Pippa get to their feet and walk across the bunker doorway, shooting down attacking soldiers. Of course, this somewhat begs the question of what the soldiers themselves are doing at the time. After the firing subsides, Keenan brazenly stands in the doorway, looking for the enemy. In this prologue, the enemy seems to have all the military aptitude of Imperial Storm Troopers or COBRA Vipers. Of course, Keenan himself is almost superhuman, according to Remic. Here:

His gun came up, stocky, black, deathly serious, held in strong hands that had no right to be that steady in the midst of a fire-fight.

If there's one thing we're going to learn in the course of this book, it's that Keenan is not a little man. One can only presume he must have a hat.

Before Keenan indulges in a brief sexual fantasy/reminiscence of Pippa, she has this puzzling line:

"We've got to get to the reactor. We're fast running out of time!" soothed Pippa, words tickling his ear she was so close.

Either Remic is taking a dip in the waters of beat poetry or his editor is inept, as the last part of the sentence doesn't quite work out grammatically, but above all the characters are still talking incredibly weird. We're running out of time! she soothed. That is just bizarre.


As the team prepares to assault the reactor, another flashback takes us to Combat-K graduation.

A bugle sounded, forlorn, wavering, and sixteen thousand boots stamped in perfect unison as the battalion wheeled - a well-oiled machine - and every greased cog saluted officers standing stern but proud on a high fluid compress alloy podium. This was the climax of four years hardcore training.

One presumes that should read "years'". Also, "fluid compress alloy" is just gibberish, but marks our first encounter with an alloy. There'll be more ahead.

Most puzzling, though, is that in something that calls itself military science fiction, one expects military terms to make some kind of sense. A battalion of 8 000 men? Generally a battalion has always been used of a formation of some 1 000 men. In modern military terms, a formation of 8 000 men is a reinforced brigade or maybe an understrength division. A battalion of 8 000 is as pointless a concept as a squad of 50 or a company of 800.


On their way to the reactor, Keenan muses on the fact that they've been compromised.

During covert Impact, the Terminus5 government should not have had time to scramble units to protect what was considered planetary low-key targets, such as this global reactor site.

The logic here is unfathomable. On page 8, their mission is "pivotal, crucial"; on page 14 they're attacking a "low-key target". The reactor they're going to destroy is powering some kind of shield system that's stopping an army from invading the planet, and it's a low-key target?

From Keenan's musings we enter another erotic flashback featuring Pippa. During this, we learn that Keenan has a wife called Freya and two beautiful young daughters, but he's still sleeping with his squadmate. We now enter Remic's characterisation of Pippa in all its brutal misogyny:

She was a hard woman, a killer, a devastatingly brutal assassin. But within her lurked a core of insecurity, a child in need of nurture, a young girl locked in a room craving nothing more than love and caring, and - ironically - protection. He had become her protector, her brother, her father, and, against all probability, almost forced by circumstances, he had become her lover.

Lest anyone get any womens-lib ideas that Pippa is a soldier just like the men she serves with, she is instantly reduced to a child who needs a man to protect her. In case someone might have thought that Keenan and Pippa might have a relationship as equals, she's a simpering little girl who is, by implication, his daughter, his sister, his protege. Isn't it far more disturbing to enumerate the relationship that way?


They arrive at the shield reactor, which has an alloy door (check). There's a scene in which they rappel down to the reactor and destroy it, facing a "metal AI" on the way. Keenan reminiscences on his ranch, his horses, his dogs, his wife and daughters, and his tortillas and beer, giving us another glimpse into a non-little man's world. The chapter abruptly ends as Keenan, Franco and Pippa are presumably captured by Terminus5 troops.

I've covered the prologue in this much depth as it's really a very good microcosm of what's to come. The contracictory narrative, the bizarrely inept language, the stereotyped, misogynistic characterization. The only thing "science fiction" about this is strings of nonsense words and occasional lasers and AIs. The "military" part isn't doing much better.

There are several intriguing strands that I'll be following throughout:

Keenan. He's clearly the central character of the book, and given what I posted about the author earlier, it doesn't seem like too wide a stretch to say that Keenan is an idealized projection of Andy Remic. That falls outside my mandate of text-based criticism, but even within the text it seems that Keenan is being set up as an archetype of sorts.

Pippa. So far, she's a brutal, tough soldier who's really a scared little girl. Speaking as a feminist, I have to say that the way she's treated is typical of misogynistic fiction. One sets up a strong female character, and then proceeds to textually emasculate her by reducing her to a little girl. This isn't just a staple of fiction written by men; a particularly galling moment in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series is Hermione's self-emasculation in the first volume.

The post-Singularity future. So far, we've had guys running around a jungle firing sub-machineguns and sniper rifles. There have been some references to far higher tech, but on the whole the basic narrative could easily have happened in the 1960's. There isn't really anything science fiction about it at all; it just seems to be a war story with some random gibberish thrown in to make it science fiction. And that isn't science fiction. The only truly bizarre anachronism is the single-action sniper rifle, but later there'll be more. Much more.

Repeated motifs. Licking lips and alloys have already been noted. They'll recur.


Before Part I: Combat-K gets under way, there's a strange bit of text in the book. Its title:

being an extract from:
kv 4788-hv3792
written by
Professor Marsaal Su b-Krδiy∞

For the font-challenged, that's b-Kr delta iy infinity. The text that follows is Remic's horrible attempt to imitate or parody academic prose. Reading it is pure torture. Seemingly random proper names are CAPITALIZED. The text runs through three theories on the causes of the Helix War, and ends up saying that one of the theories on the causes of the war actually caused the war. That's right, what happened happened because of a theory on why it happened. That doesn't make any sense, but then again, neither does anything else. This is what it ends with:

Atrocity followed atrocity. Escalation led to destruction, to escalation, to destruction in an apparent Catch 22 of spiralling violence. From three possible origins, all time/space strands intercepted and moved along in a sequential and singular course...almost written in stone.

First things first: a Catch-22 (properly hyphenated) is not a spiral. For the uneducated, Catch-22 refers to Joseph Heller's book of the same name. In it, a Catch-22 is an example of circular logic, not of an escalating process. Also, isn't it a little strange to be supposedly reading an academic work in the post-Singularity future where reference is made to a 1961 novel?

Furthermore, Remic is again having serious difficulty using English. The "time/space" (spacetime?) strands "intercepted". Intercepted what? To intercept means to stop or catch something before it gets to where it's going. What did the strands catch? To say that they intercepted each other would be bizarre; an interception requires an interceptor who catches and an interceptee who is caught, and therefore is going somewhere or doing something. He doesn't say they intercepted each other, though, just that they intercepted, which is pointless.

After "intercepting", they move "sequentially". Sequentially means one after the other. How are we to visualize three theories moving sequentially? Presumably Remic has no idea what sequentially means. Also, their course is "singular". Singular means something strange, exceptional. The "strands of time/space" move on a strange course, one after the other?

Presumably what he means is that the strands converge. For someone who is apparently a teacher, this total inability to use a dictionary is puzzling. I just hope he doesn't teach English. The misuse of singular recurs later in the work, making one strongly suspect that not only does he have no idea what many of the words he uses means, he can't even be bothered to look them up.

Somewhat more worryingly, neither can his editors.


Overall, the Prologue and "being an extract" give an overwhelming impression of ineptness, both literary and linguistic. Now that I've taken a fairly close look at the prologue, I hope you've gotten an idea of what it is we're dealing with and I can move through the rest of the book considerably more quickly, focusing more on themes and characterization and items of interest rather than continue to trudge through his hideous language and repated errors.

Coming up next: an alcoholic private investigator, a mental hospital and a naked woman killing a cow with a sword. I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried.

May 18, 2009

War Machine: a close reading, part 1

Recently, a friend of mine ran across a novel that seemed so hilariously awful he had to share. The book in question was Andy Remic's War Machine. Just using Amazon's "Look inside" feature led to so much fun that I obviously had to get him the book.

I mean, it's got Edge and Bono from U2 on the cover. How can I not buy that?

You'll notice it's billed as "rock-hard military science fiction". For so many reasons, I felt I had to read the damn thing. I mean, I've been writing about all things military for a living for nearly ten years now, I've been reading science fiction for nearly twenty years, and hell, I'm still technically majoring in English. It's a book I simply have to read. What's more, it's published by Solaris Books, which is ultimately owned by Games Workshop! And because I believe I have to read it, I'm also going to be sharing it with the world, i.e. you.

In other words, I'll be doing a close reading of Andy Remic's novel War Machine on my blag, starting soonish. Before I get to the text itself, though, I'd like to say a few things.

In doing this close reading, I may occasionally be a little harsh. I tend to be a little harsh about a number of things on this blag, but I'm not going to apologize. I don't criticize people in order to offend them or to get kicks out of it; the easiest way to describe my approach is that I follow my version of the credo: if you publish it and it sucks, I'm going to make fun of it. We'll shortly be seeing if War Machine sucks. (if you visited and read any of the excerpts, you may already know the answer)

My approach to literary criticism is strongly text-centered. To exaggerate, I don't particularly care who wrote a text and why, and I certainly don't want to try to discover the author's opinions or preferences by studying their text. The approach I'm going to be taking here will be reading the text as it is, without more context than the one provided by the book itself. I'll probably make an occasional foray elsewhere, but in the main I intend to concentrate on the text itself.


Having said that, in the interests of good writing it'll be proper to get in some background first. The author, Andy Remic, is a former English teacher from Manchester, UK, who has written a number of games for the ZX Spectrum back in the day. That's him, from Wikipedia:

In his blog, he described himself as an "Author of high-octane fast-paced kickass Fantasy and Science Fiction novels". On his website, he poses with a chainsaw (bottom of page). And the book itself contains both a dedication and an "about the author" section. Here's an excerpt from the surprisingly long dedication:

"How many men have been where we've been? And seen what we've seen?"

No matter what happens, we're not little men.
Hats on!

Not to be outdone, here's "About the Author" from the end of the book:

Andy Remic is a young British writer.
He has an unhealthy love of martial arts, kickass bikes, mountain climbing and computer hacking. Once a member of an elite Combat-K squad, he has since retired from military service and works as a biomod and weapon engineer at the NANOTEK Corporation.


About the Author
Andy Remic is a young British writer and teacher from Greater Manchester. During his teaching career he developed an interest in martial arts and is now expert in unarmed combat. He can kill a man with a single blow, but prefers writing and hacking computer systems. War Machine is his fourth novel.

There's so much I could say about these descriptions. I'll just note, though, that in case you're fooled by the recurrence of the word "young", a Google search leads one to understand that he was born in 1971. If 38 is a "young author", then, well. You know.


This is the kind of fellow whose work I'll be reading. Oh, and, um, do you suppose this counts as a book review? Because this is what he says about book reviews, on the aforementioned website:

How do you deal with the people who don't like your books, and tell you as much? If a person doesn't like my books - no problem. Everybody has different personal tastes, and I suppose my work is as acquired as any Islay whisky. After all - there are plenty of books I don't like. However, the pieces of shit I really do hate are failed-writers turned book reviewers - they really make me boil, and then know who they are. I'd certainly like to meet a few face to face.

I could be a real dick and wonder what, exactly, a failed-writer is, but I won't, nor will I ask whether he hates failed writers who review books or hates everyone who reviews books and is insulting them. In the first case, he should be OK with what I'll be saying, but in the latter case, I guess not.

Why am I being a dick about this? There's a real simple reason. He isn't, by any means, the first or the last author who hates book reviewers. I have no sympathy for this rubbish at all. In my opinion, it's perfectly simple. If you publish something, let alone if you're selling it, you're going to be criticized. Sometimes that criticism is probably going to be unfair, and it's perfectly OK to respond to that. But as for hating book reviewers in general?

In a free market economy, criticism has an important function. Every book that's out there has some gushing blurb from a publisher telling you it's the best thing ever, and every book that's notable enough to be commented on will probably have at least a page of quotes of other people gushing about it. Because practically every book has this, it contains no real information. Most of us people who read book would like to know if the books in question are good or not before we make a decision to buy them. That's what book reviews are for. They're a fairly essential service. If you hate the people who write them, or are going to respond with some inane argument on the level of "well why don't they write themselves then", you have a problem.

If you choose to write and publish a novel, you're putting it out in the public domain for us to see, read and experience, and to talk about. If you don't like some of the things people say about your novel, that's just tough. As for the level of class it shows to rail and swear about them on your website, well, like I said, I don't go in for biographical criticism.

A wit suggested to me that maybe he's looking to set up as the Uwe Boll of literature.


Let's get to the book itself. Here's what the author himself had to say about it, in an interview for SFX magazine:

SFX: Again, no spoilers! But what's the basic premise of your new novel?
RE: "War Machine is a sizzling rollercoaster of a novel with a gratuitous excess of violence, sex, dark humour and exotic aliens all wrapped up in a high-octane cling-film plot concerning an elite military unit illegally reformed who must battle across alien planets to discover justice, truth and revenge. Initially, the story begins with a quest to find an artefact which will reveal to Keenan the person who killed his wife and children."

Can you imagine a person really talking like that? Would you call something you wrote a "sizzling rollercoaster" "wrapped up in a high-octane clingfilm"? If not, then you're clearly not the kind of non-little man who writes Combat-K novels.

SFX: Solaris are calling you "the new master of rock-hard science fiction" - what's the appeal of this sort of writing, and how do you deliver?
RE: "I have a very low boredom threshold. And I love science fiction. However, in years past, nothing I read seemed to deliver the sort of high-explosive thriller-driven adventure I was looking for. So I decided to write my own. I suppose one way of looking at it is that if the work of Iain M. Banks (of whom I’m a great fan) is categorized as Space Opera, then my work would be classed as Space Opera – The Punk Remix. So, a sprawling canvas of interesting yet volatile characters, exotic war-torn alien locations held together with fast action, guns, chases, fights and battles, clever plot twists and a liberal pepper sprinkling of black comedy. Dune crossed with Jonny Rotten. Disney merged with The Clash. Doctor Who on heroin. Buffy, when she’s grown up and become a hooker. Hell, Star Wars with rag doll corpses and the Sith being real evil bastards."

So, we're in for some Rock-Hard Military Sci-Fi, or Punk Space Opera. What does that mean? Damned if I know. It all sounds really edgy!

This is what says about the book itself:

Product Description
In a time of post-Singularity and FTL travel, the Helix War has raged across galaxies. When ex-soldier turned privite investigtor [sic], Keenan, takes on a new case, he must overcome his demons and gather together his old military unit, a group who swore they’d never work together again....

The first sentence is reproduced verbatim on the book's back cover. It's the first issue I have with the book, so I'll start there.

In mathematics, a singularity is a point at which an equation "blows up", as Mathworld puts it. Back in the '80s, US professor and author Vernor Vinge coined the idea of a "technological singularity", which meant a point at which the growth of technology reaches such a high rate that we cannot extrapolate the future beyond it from where we are now.

As Remic's novel doesn't seem to provide any alternative meaning for "Singularity", the assumption that a sci-fi reader will make is that the blurb is referring to a technological singularity à la Vinge.

And that's why it's so pointless. If the future beyond a singularity can't be predicted, then it's logically impossible to write a novel set in a time after a singularity. In the same interview, Remic says his "Combat-K" novels are set "a million years into the future". That's a ridiculous number; we, homo sapiens, haven't been around for even close to a million years. A million years in the future is an impossibly long time to make predictions, as is any time beyond a technological singularity. The best you can do is guess, and by the very definition of a singularity, your guess will be based on incomplete data and can't really be accurate.

The blurb on the back cover continues:

Ex-soldier Keenan now works as a private investigator on a planet at the peaceful fringes of the Quad-Gal. Following the brutal death of his family he's run up hefty debts, gained a bad reputation and become a heavy drinker.

So it's a post-Singularity novel featuring an alcoholic private dick? Some singularity.


So we have a book called War Machine, with half of U2 on the cover, billed as "rock-hard military science fiction". It's set in the pointless contradiction that is a "post-Singularity" future where there are alcoholic private investigators. The author poses with chainsaws, describes himself like a 12-year-old and hates book reviews.

All this, and I haven't even started reading yet.

Feb 11, 2009


Today the Civilian Service Center in Lapinjärvi should be receiving my letter.

According to 127 § of the Finnish constitution, every Finnish citizen is obliged to participate in the defense of their country, as decreed by law. The law in question states that every male Finnish citizen is required to perform military service. However, male citizens living in Ahvenanmaa or belonging to the Jehovah's Witnesses religious movement are exempt.

The Finnish constitution guarantees every citizen the right to not be discriminated against on basis of, among other things, their gender or convictions. The current laws on conscription in Finland do both of these things. I refuse to serve in the armed forces or in the "alternative" civilian service because I do not believe the government has any right to force me to do so. Jehovah's Witnesses in Finland also hold a conviction that makes them refuse compulsory service. However, under Finnish law they are exempt from service because of their convictions, while I am not.

Also, rather obviously I'm subject to compulsory service in the first place because of my gender.

Both of these things are in clear violation of the Finnish constitution, and also of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights:
Article 20
Equality before the law

Everyone is equal before the law.

Article 21

1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

I maintain that the current Finnish legistlation on conscription is, in fact, itself illegal. I have therefore refused to serve either in the army or in the "alternate" civilian service, which is the normal punishment for those who refuse armed service. This means I'll be going to prison within maybe the next year or so as a conscientious objector.

For the benefit of Finnish readers, I've posted most of my letter over on my Finnish-language blag, which is linked on the sidebar.


I have no illusions as to what will happen. In Europe in general, and in Finland in particular, the justice system is always secondary to the political system. I intend to take my case to court, because I will have to go to court for refusing to serve, but I am 100% convinced that no argument I make will have any bearing on the end result. Hundreds of people have made these same arguments before me, and they've all ended up in prison as conscientious objectors. I have no doubt in my mind that I, too, will be sentenced to prison and be forced to serve my term.

However, I will use every legal option to fight this. After the initial court case, I can appeal to the Apellate Court, and possibly to the Finnish Supreme Court. At the very least I hope I can force someone to actually put on paper what the supposed "acceptable reasons" for forcing only certain men to serve are. I don't believe there are any, but I know most of the people in this country are convinced otherwise.

Overall I don't believe what I'm doing will achieve anything. I may be able to demonstrate that the Finnish constitution doesn't mean anything, but I think everyone knows that already. I expect to be sentenced in court and the sentence to be upheld in the Apellate Court, and then to be refused appeal to either the Finnish Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights.

The fact that this is futile is exactly the reason why I want to do it. If the only thing I can demonstrate is that the pretty words about non-discrimination and equality in our constitutions and charters don't actually mean anything, then so be it.

I believe that we only have those rights that we're willing to fight for. If we all meekly submit, we'll have no freedoms at all. The government can put me in prison for refusing to serve. I certainly expect it to. But I refuse to submit quietly to a law that I believe is unjust and illegal. I feel this is my only choice, both as a libertarian and as a feminist. This is by no means a popular choice. I've already suffered for originally refusing armed service, and refusing alternate service as well is not going to make me any friends. On the contrary. At the very least I'm going to lose my job, and I'll likely lose friends and several opportunities in life.

That doesn't really matter to me. If I don't stand up for what I believe in, I'll lose myself. We all have to sacrifice some of our personal integrity to get by in this world, but we also need to draw the line somewhere. I've drawn mine, and I'm going to prison for it.