There are two things I can be said to cherish, or at least approximate the emotion as far as my cold, dead ice-lump allows. The first is Science Fiction. Ever since I was but a sprightly young swamp-German (a truly magnificent slur coined by a certain British Poofter with a fondness for vampire cossplay), my mind was set ablaze by the likes of A.E van Vogt, Frank Herbert, Dan Simmons and Isaac Asimov. I was spoon fed on Star Trek and Star Wars, and love Warhammer 40k. I can probably recite most star trek episode names which is, let’s face it, really fucking gay. Thoughtful hard science tales of discovery and adventure are what set my mind ablaze and give me a nerdboner. Even on the big and small screen, thoughtful works such as Interstellar, The Expanse, Battlestar Galactica, The Prisoner, Ghost in the Shell and Moon set my blood afire.
I am, however, also a man. I like violence, drinking, fucking girls and being angry for no reason. As such there is one other genre of movie I unapologetically adore. I speak of action movies, preferably stupid and violent, but violent is the only true qualifier. Commando is a timeless masterpiece, Die Hard a modern day Illiad, B.K.O Bangkok Knockout an audiovisual Tempest, MI: II like a primary school play performed by professional dramateurges, Fast & Furious 6 a gloriously stupid triumph of cinema and so on and so forth. There are plenty of movies that combine the two genres seamlessly (e.g the Terminator, Predator, Dredd, Edge of Tomorrow and arguably the first and only Matrix movie) and even the odd series (Dark Matter) but it is not often one sees the lofty genre of Science Fiction Action return to its literary roots. In an age of declining SF book sales, encroaching neo-progressive message fiction, the Hugos becoming a battleground in the culture war and a major publisher calling for the end of binary gender in SF, it is comforting to know that shit like this is still being made. Enter Warmachine by Andy Remic.
Let’s get something out of the way. Warmachine is not a good book. It is, in fact, terrible. So terrible, so clichéd and so dumb that I cannot help but crack a smile at every hardcore angst-ridden sentence, katana-fight and clumsy attempt at edge. Everything falls into place in a magnificent, beer-soaked Gun picasso sort of way. It bills itself as Rock-Hard Military Sci Fi but it is pretty obvious the author did research on the military by watching all of Jean Cloud van Damme movies back to back and his physics and science by watching all of Jean Cloud van Damme movies back to back. I don’t know if the author was serious. I hope to god he was. I already have the rest of the series and I will be reading the rest of it asap.
The plot is a combination of all action movie clichés combined into one glorious adrenaline-fuelled bunker buster of a book. Drinking game not recommended. Protagonist Keenan is an ex-special forces (check!), private detective (check!) with a dark past (check!) and a drinking habit (check!) and a murdered wife and kids (check!) who is approached by a shady figure to do one last job (check!). He rejects at first the offer to steal the Fractured Emerald but accepts as soon as he hears that he may use it to discover the identity of the murderer of his familiy so he may finally have revenge (check!). He thus resolves to break out his former teammates from respectively, a prison planet where there are no rules (check!) and an insane asylum (check!) for one last mission. Aw yeah.
From there on out we are treated to several bazillion gunfights (you will be happy to know that even in post-singularity intergalactic civilisation the gun is still the weapon of choice for all the girls and all the boys although state-of-the-art battle AIs in this universe use embedded swords exclusively for some reason), 3 katana fights within the first 200 pages and the introduction of the main badguy, a sexy female general who is a follower of a crazy pagan religion and who also has a katana. On his way to steal the Fractured Emrald from the War Planet of Ket (imagine sub-saharan Africa, complete with thinly-veiled black people aliens that are all a member of an insane warrior culture that have declared war on the rest of the universe and that also have embedded diamond-edged blades in their wrists because why the fuck not, he teams up with Franco, a psychopathic Scottish midget and demolition expert with a troubled past and former flame Pippa, a psychopathic hot babe pilot and katana-wielder that used to love him but now she wants to kill him for breaking her heart or something and their effeminate robotic security butler (check!). Things are not as simple as they seem (check!) when they discover that their memories have been altered (check!) and one of their opponents (gasp) turns out to also be a former member of Combat-K, a sort of Dirty Dozen in space.
As Keenan reconnects with his psychopathic long lost love, he must escort the Fractured Emrald (who turns out to be an alien creature taking the shape of a hot naked black lady), to the Forbidden planet of Teller’s World, when the book suddenly turns into a sort of Dante’s Inferno albeit it with robot spiders, there to activate her powers of foresight and so she may die. In a plot twist that is literally telegraphed several hundred pages in advance, she is actually evil (check!) and seeks to re-awaken Leviathan, an imprisoned Dark God that scoured the universe in the Olden Tymes (check!). None of this shit is explained all that much which is probably a small mercy. The only detail and section that made sense and was fairly well executed was the planet of The City, an ecumenopolis with a realistic population (117 trillion), no trade laws or weapon restrictions, no immigration laws and that is de facto ruled by gigantic cartels. Brazil if it was a planet essentially.
There is a section where Franco Haggis is attacked by a man (the evil ex-combat K Betezh) and his robot friend with a hypodermic (in an Irish pub a million years in the future of course), kicks the hypodermic out of his hands, and then kicks it again into his throat, presumably while doing some sort of backflip. If they are not fighting or arguing about the clear irresponsibility of their team-mates, Combat-K spends most of its time lamenting its dark and troubled past, swearing, brooding, or sulking. Most chapters end with the team facing sudden death, only to be rescued by a dramatic reversal of fortune, in true pulp fashion. Hear, Hear.
If I must be critical of this masterpiece of vaguely science-fiction themed action revenge porn (if this is, indeed, even possible), the later sections of the book are vague and kind of fall apart, there is a bit of a tonal shift with the alteration of the revenge plot to the awaken long dormant evil plot and several plot holes make their dreadful comeuppance around this time. The book also has an annoying tendency to name drop certain sci fi concepts without explaining what the fuck they are (I.E Seed Hunters, GodRaces, proxers and so on). Perhaps less is more. Regardless, I praise the gods that this exists, even though the execution needs work. Perhaps Remic will pick up the slack in the sequel. For now, anyone over the age of 14 wanting to sneeringly enjoy a magnificent evocation of 90s dark edge, 80s action movies, Tarantino films and Frank Miller’s Sin City on crack cocaine could do slightly worse.
I give War Machine 3 out of 5 robot-AI katana fights. Rejoice! Science Fiction is dumb again!