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.