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Monday, April 26, 2010

"New Model Army" by Adam Roberts (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Adam Roberts Website
Order New Model Army HERE
Read FBC Review of Yellow Blue Tibia

INTRODUCTION: The blurb for the novel says:

"Adam Roberts' new novel is a terrifying vision of a near future war - a civil war that tears the UK apart as new technologies allow the worlds first truly democratic army to take on the British army and wrest control from the powers that be. Taking advances in modern communication and the new eagerness for power from the bottom upwards Adam Roberts has produced a novel that is at once an exciting war novel and a philosophical examination of war and democracy. It shows one of the UKs most exciting and innovative literary voices working at the height of his powers and investing SF with literary significance that is its due.",

while in my 2010 Anticipated Books Post I continued:

"The undisputed king of high concept sf and one of my top six sf authors of the 00's, Adam Roberts does not write sequels and each book is different conceptually from the rest. So when this one - about which I know precisely what is above in the blurb - was announced it became another get asap and read on receive."

And so it turned out, since while delayed a little by the European airspace unpleasantness of recent times, I got "New Model Army" relatively soon after its publication and I read it on arrival; sadly while there was a lot I liked in the book, it underwhelmed me for reasons I will explain below but that overall can be reduced to the fact that after a strong start "New Model Army" evolves more into a sketch of a novel than the real thing.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: For most of its slim 280 pages, "New Model Army" is narrated in first person by Anthony Block an Englishman soldier and currently a component of New Model Army (NMA) Pantegral that has won a commission from the Scottish Parliament to "convince" by force of arms the English state to accept Scottish independence.

"New Model Army" is partly near-future mil-sf novel, partly abstract didactic talk about love, war, faith, democracy and while the action part is very good to excellent at least to start with, the didactic part is way too simplistic, generic and with "cookie cutter" pronouncements that can come straight out of a graduate seminar or a maudlin bar discussion to be of much interest beyond its showcasing the author's erudition.

ANALYSIS: Before proceeding to show how a NMA acts, "New Model Army" opens with a sort of introduction about democracy as practiced by the Athenians and about how current technology may enable a return to such, rather than the "pseudo-democracy" we are used to, all of this of course in the opinion of the narrator.

So from the start we have the dichotomy between the two main aspects of the novel:

the show part
- NMA's as a new kind of sentient organisms, each composed by some thousands of smaller sentient cells (ie people) that make war because it's fun, the new kids on the block that smash things as they experiment; while a staple of sf as group mind, this particular instance of it is excellent and combined with the superb style of the author makes the show part of the novel an A+

the tell part - witty and full of great references but very didactic dialogue about "true" democracy, love, faith and war between Anthony - who among other things happens to be gay and with parental and authority issues - and his "interrogator", a Baptist fundamentalist US officer; the dialogue contains the expected barbs and it occupies too much of the slim novel; the tell part is a C for wit and references otherwise it would have been an F

When the novel covers NMA Pantegral in action as seen through Anthony's eyes and his part in it, as well as when Anthony "detaches" from the NMA and goes on his own - for example in the periods Pantegral "rests"- the pages turn by themselves and they are wonderful. However beyond those pages there is very little exploration of the impact of the NMA's on the world and instead we get the didactic and pointless talk mentioned above. Still the 200 hundred pages of this first and as it turns out "core" part of "New Model Army" is reasonably good and were the book to stop here I would actually have appreciated it more.

However the second part of "New Model Army" in which Anthony is supposedly primed to destroy NMA's by his captors is very sketchy and unconvincing; that may have been a deliberate choice since after all Anthony is still narrator and now he is quite unbalanced, but it just does not work and those 70 pages transform the book into a sketch of a novel rather than the real thing. The epilogue part which is predictable but quite good, redeems a little what came before, but overall "New Model Army" was a B from me and a minor disappointment.



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