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Monday, November 12, 2007

"War Machine" by Andy Remic

Order “War MachineHERE
Read An Extract HERE
Read SFX’s Interview with Andy Remic HERE

Every once in a while a novel comes along that surprises the hell out of you. That was the case with “War Machine” by Andy Remic. All I really knew about the book going in was that is was classified as military science fiction and that it was the fourth novel by an author I had never heard of. So imagine my surprise when “War Machine” became my favorite science fiction novel of the year. Yes, you heard correctly. Gary Gibson’sStealing Light”, Peter F. Hamilton’sThe Dreaming Void”, Neal Asher’sHilldiggers”, Josh Conviser’sEmpyre”, Richard K. Morgan’sBlack Man/Thirteen”, Matthew Jarpe’sRadio Freefall”; “War Machine” topped them all and no one is more shocked than I am!

The first thing that jumped out at me was the tone of the book. In spirit, “War Machine” hearkens back to the good old days of action films when guys like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon), Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and yes, even Dolph Lundgren ruled the box office. A time when heroes always managed to survive despite impossible odds; where villains were triumphed over and dispatched in a spectacular manner; when cheesy one-liners were fashionable; and the good guys got the hot girl. “War Machine” embodies those types of flicks. From the unrelenting action, impressive body count and death-defying predicaments to the witty comebacks, droll humor, prolific swearing and hot n’ heavy sex, “War Machine" is an action junkie’s wet dream come to life ;)

At the same time though, reading “War Machine” was also like playing a videogame. Specifically, I was reminded of another military SF novel—David Gunn’sDeath’s Head” (Reviewed HERE)—which I compared to such games as Halo, Gears of War, StarCraft, Doom & Half-Life, and in this case, I’d also throw in a little Final Fantasy. Basically, here’s the premise: Keenan is an ex-Combat K soldier living out his days as a private investigator. Then he gets an offer he can’t refuse—steal the Fractured Emerald, a treasure that “can look into the future and see into the past”. For Keenan, it’s the ultimate opportunity to finally discover the murderer of his wife & children and gain retribution. First though, he’s going to need to assemble his former team, which is a problem itself. Not only is there a GroupD prohibition out on the team—means instant termination if the CK squad reassembles—but Keenan will also have to rescue Franco Haggis from a mental institution and Pippa from a high security prison. From here, “War Machine” is essentially broken up into a series of increasingly dangerous missions—break out Franco; extract Pippa from the non-policed moon prison Hardcore, home to some of the galaxy’s most vilest criminals; get outfitted on The City, a lawless planet-sized city where almost anything goes; survive the planet Ket which is inhabited by seven-foot-tall Ket-i warrior tribes who have declared war against all other races/species; and infiltrate the Metal Palace, a consistently shifting, giant maze-like machine—kind of like from those Cube horror movies—which houses the Fractured Emerald. Now if that doesn’t sound like a script straight out of a SF action-shooter videogame, I don’t know what is and I haven’t even talked about the incredible arsenal of weaponry that is used in the book, or the vehicles, or the different alien races, not to mention an excellent cast of villains—bosses and mini-bosses if you will—including an unkillable assassin; Teller’s World, a Forbidden planet fabled for its treasure and danger—no one in a million years has left the place alive; and Leviathan, one of the GodRace, also known as the Devourer of Worlds…

Admittedly, the action/adventure elements in “War Machine” take precedence over everything else in the book, that the plot is not very complex, and an open mind is required to enjoy the novel’s fantastical scenarios, especially when the Combat K team survives one miraculous escape after the other. However, unlike most action-oriented movies or videogames, “War Machine” possesses surprising depth which prevents it from falling into that trap of one-dimensional escapist entertainment. Essentially it is the characters that make the difference, specifically Keenan, Franco and Pippa. Individually, each soldier is uniquely written, with his or her own distinctive personality and troubled past that is explored through flashbacks—Keenan harbors a powerful hatred against society’s deviants; Franco is a depraved, alcohol/sausage-loving, sexual maniac; and Pippa is a dangerous, ass-kicking, man-hating, psychotic sexbomb. Together they make a great team and I absolutely loved the chemistry & camaraderie between the three—Franco, demolitions expert, is the comic relief; Pippa, pilot/weapons guru, provides the sexual tension; and Keenan is the leader, the guy that steps in when Franco & Pippa are bickering like schoolchildren, the kind of person that you follow anywhere…even into the depths of Hell. That’s Combat K in a nutshell. They’re all a little crazy—which makes sense considering their history and the kind of missions they’ve been through; dangerous as hell and a whole lot of fun to read about. In fact, I was really surprised by how emotionally invested I became with the characters, especially at the thought of one of them possibly dying and I was blown away by the shocking betrayal at the end… The supporting cast isn’t too bad either. There’s Cam, a tennis-ball sized Security PopBot with “advanced SynthAI and a Machine Intelligence Rating (MIR) of 3150” who is pretty amusing; Dr. Betezh, Franco’s nemesis who you can’t help but feel sorry for; and did I already mention the wonderful bad guys ;)

In retrospect, “War Machine” is not the kind of novel that’s going to win any Hugo or Nebula Awards. It’s not going to challenge readers’ with thought-provoking socio-political, moral or spiritual issues. The writing isn’t what you would call ‘literary’—Andy Remic’s prose is edgy, assertive and reflects the more masculine nature of the book. And because “War Machine” skews towards a certain kind of audience, a lot of people probably wouldn’t like the book and some may even hate it. Fortunately, I’m not one of them. What can I say ;) I love those 80s/90s-era action movies, videogames set in a futuristic milieu where you get to go around blowing up things and killing bad guys, and reading books that has characters you can really connect with. Basically, for me, “War Machine” had it all. In fact, my only complaint is the cliffhanger ending since I have to wait now to see what happens :) I guess that’s not entirely true. I was also a bit annoyed at how some of the lingo, quips and weaponry seemed pretty outdated for a story that takes place thousands of years in the future, but who am I to nitpick when I was having so much fun ;) In the end, I loved every testosterone-fueled second that I was reading Andy Remic’sWar Machine” and the sequel is easily one of my most anticipated new releases…

2 comments:

Tia said...

Wow; this is a pretty enthusiastic review. I'll be sure to include it when I announce this novel.

Robert said...

Tia, yeah, I really liked it :) And thanks for accouncing the novel even though it's not a debut ;)

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