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 amazon.com 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.


Panu said...

A "yukana sword" has "an ugly curved blade formed from a single molecule". I'll leave you to work out the physics of this.

Uh, it's not that funny. There are macromolecules, you know - plastics, rubbers. Theoretically it is possible for a plastic or rubber object to be one single molecule. Whether it is practical to form sword blades from a single macromolecule, I don't know. Back where I came from, they were made of metal. Of course, all metals are, in a way, macromolecules, or can be interpreted so.

Michael Halila said...

Theoretically, a lot of things are possible. Macromolecules are on a totally different order of scale from sword blades, though. While it's possible, it doesn't seem to make any sense in any way. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that Remic is trying to convey a sword with a single-molecule edge, i.e. a very sharp edge, which is a common enough sci-fi trope, and failing.