Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Weapon, By Micheal Z Williamson

Now as readers here should know I have already reviewed Williamson's first novel Freehold in which I gave middling marks as it was a good debut story and one which I had liked and looked forward to reading. Knowing it was his first novel I had decided to give his other works a look over. While I highly reccomend him, especially to anyone with libertarian views on the world or anyone that likes military sci-fi, I am skeptical of reccomending this book at all. I will endeavor to adequetely explain why.

The story is set both before and during the events of Freehold and is a sort of sequel, but I really more like S.M. Stirling's Tears of the Sun in explaining events that happened simultaniously in Freehold but follows a once mentioned character.

The Weapon follows Freehold operative Kenneth Chinran who is a badass motherf**ker and wants the whole galaxy to know it. We begin following his gruelling training to enter the special forces of the Freehold. These montages (unlike the ones in Freehold) are well placed and flow fluidly and actually give depth to the plot as they describe the harsh and demanding process which it takes to become a special forces soldier. There are a few jabs at the squeamish UN observers, but in this case they also work quite well as it shows that anyone who disgaree's with this harsh training doesn't know how to make a special forces operative. Mind you I do know some of the training that goes into making a special ops soldier and the standard the Williamson sets is rather...harsh by comparison and might fly in the face of what a civilian government would be willing to allow. Then again that is the point he is trying to make.

But back on track the story follows his training, his years as an operative, and some engagements that his forces get themselves involved in coupling with their eventual great mission; to attack Earth.

The Good:

The story does follow a believable spec ops training cycle, missions and actions that special forces operatives would be sent to engage in. It shows them taking on terrorists, training with other governments and practicing with their own forces. All something that goes in real life.

Williamson also explores the galaxy at large, something I enjoyed, and does some creative world building in the effort. There are a few planets with distinct cultures that are shown wonderfully and also their militaries. One world we spend a great deal of time looking at is Caledonia, a planet settled by the British. I enjoyed the look into their culture and the examination of their military views and society. Brits in space basically but it read well and as a Brit lover myself I was happy with it.

Then he describes the conflict on Mtali, a major backstory component in the first book, and gives depth to the war and the people who fought there. This is something I was glad of, for it was only sketchily mentioned in the previous novel.

The Bad:

Unfortunately I have a lot to criticize with the book.

One thing of course which I will get out of the way now is that I don't agree with the books politics, but as an open minded reader and person in general I am willing to let that slide. What I cannot let slide is the outright hyporcrasy of the main character.

Also, Kenneth Chinran is not nor will his character in this book ever be a likable person who can be forgiven for his actions. The man is also a hypocrite through and through and should be tried for multiple counts of murder, and not to mention the various war crimes he commited. The man thinks he is a badass and acts as though he is superior to everyone else while treating himself as nearly God incarnate by being judge, jury, and executioner in all aspects of his mission. Emphasis on executioner.

One of his first missions is to hunt down a terrorist who killed a small child and the passengers of a space liner. He and his team proceed to do so and capture (quite amazingly on the first try) the head terrorist and his compatriots. Chinran then proceeds to torture and mutilate the man within an inch of his life and castrate him. This not only doesn't prompt any retaliation by the terrorists at all but in fact ensures no other Freehold civilians are attacked by these terrorists! Amazing!

My suspension of disbelief is still intact by this point, but I'm sad to say that doesn't last long.

We then move on to Caledonia, one of the most interesting venues in the book, where we have some low level spy activity and training with the allies of the Freehold. Unsurprisingly Chinran and his team proceed to thoroughly trounce the forces of an entire base only to end up in a messy hostage situation before being wiped out by an SAS (yes I said SAS) response team, but not before killing half the response team of course. So yes it proves the operatives are dangerous individuals and can go on dangerous rampages just because they have superior training, and come from a heavier gravity world. All reasonable but the fact that save for being massacred by the SAS at the end they manage to pull everything off without a hitch is ridiculous to me.

Then of course comes Mtali. The first chapter describing it goes into a long hateful and racist (incredibly so) rant about how Muslims (specifically Sunni and Shia) are evil raping, murdering, war mongering, and genocidal bastards. Also Baptists (sorry an off-shoot of them) are just as bad. There probably isn't a single religion (except paganism) which isn't listed or mocked in a certain way. I was personally disgusted by the rant and how narrow minded and stereotypical it was. I could forgive this as something of a character flaw or so, but it was astoundingly uncessesary and I couldn't help but feel the authors own personal prejudice seaping into it. It was shocking, offensive, and not well written which simply added salt to the wound. And of course by this point Chinran is still perfect.

But the long and short of it is this. Mtali is basically a stand in for war torn Africa or even some part of the Middle East, but mostly Africa. You see the Freehold Military Forces (FMF) are sent to partake in peace keeping (read making) operations. Yes he details his approach to this, but not before completely breaking my suspension of disbelief. You see when they land they are met by US Marines, that's right United States Marines from a world dominated by the UN. Chinran then proceeds to intimidate them. Ladies and gentlemen we are five hundred years in the future and the world is controlled by the UN but the US Marine Core is still standing strong! Hoo-rah! This I found as an unforgivable destruction of the suspension of disbelief, as you cannot convince me that US Marines are still in operation under the same name or colors on a UN dominated Earth! Give me a break!

Then of course we have Chinran's treatment of the locals. Here we are treated to an unflattering display of how Sunni Arabs are filthy and live in their own garbage and go out of their way to antagonize the FMF. Chinran, in what doubtless in his mind constitues a Napoleon-esque strategy, orders his soldiers to act like animals. They urninate and deficate in the streets, harrass Muslims, and dump loads of garbage whever they feel like it. They also preform admirably by encouraging the locals to attack them then kill them. This becomes their routine until (thanfully in reference to realism) Chinran is over confident and someone slips and gets killed.

Now in real life this would result in an inquiry about Chinrans operations and why after such a long period of success he managed to incur a casualty and why he screwed up. He would also be withdrawn from the field and replaced, as in all likelihood his unit would not be fit for combat.

But no Chinran proceeds to perpetrate a war crime while his commander looks the other way. He massacres the entire village down to the elderly, the women, and the children. His excuse? It will prevent further reprisals, and the kids would have just grown up to extremists anyways.

This incurs no repercussions whatsoever. On a planet where the modus operandi is vengeance for killing others no group carries out a revenge raid against the Freehold forces, no group turns to a less risky insurgency tactic and no one bothers to prosecute Chinran for war crimes. What is worse is that this is presented as not only the right thing, but a solution that works. Unfortunately history has shown us this is not the case, as massacring a single village has never reduced the overall determination of an insurgency. From Ghengis Khan, to Napoleon to Hitler, massacring villages has never worked. Oh it did work for Ghengis Khan, but that was because he would kill everyone who opposed him.

From this point on I could not sympathise, care or even root for Chinran. When you hate a books main character this will somewhat ruin the book for you.

To sum up, Chinran then participates in the war where he carries out the master stroke attack against Earth and resorts to the terrorist tactics he mocked and loathed earlier in the book. Instead of realising he's a hypocritical mass murderer who shouldn't be proud of what he's done, he has a daughter and tries to rationalise his actions. Instead of a good book about he who fights monsters and the consequences this entails or what one must do to survive, we end up with a broken aesop critique of terrorism, and then its outright glorification as a necessity, which the author makes worse by justifying it in a section at the end!

Chinran had the possibility of being an interesting, well developed and sympathetic character who goes from the moral high ground, to questioning why he fights and what lengths he is willing to go to in order to keep his nation safe. Instead we have an unlikable jerk who cheefully commits war crimes and genocide but justifies it because 'it is for a just cause'.

Bullshit Mr. Chiran, bullshit and you know it. In fact you said so yourself many times. His character had potential, but he didn't grow from that potential! Even though he seemed nervous, and somewhat repetent after helping kill six billion people I couldn't care less about him. All I remembered was the village of Sunni's he gleefully slaughtered back on Mtali and then every action regardless of his feelings seemed normal. His regret was pitiful and impossible to sympathize with. The man was a monster plain and simple.

The Verdict.

Great potential, but a massive disapointment. The point could have been made better, the actions (especially those in the earlier parts of the book) less glorified, and the main character less of a psychopath that the reader couldn't sympathise with.

It reads somewhat like a John Ringo novel, but fails to capture its essence and instead of a regular or good soldier we get a murderer.

In the end I could not like this book no matter how much I liked the authors previous book. I will still read some other works in the hopes that he has improved since then. But I cannot in good standing reccomend that anyone read this book. Despite some pleasurable moments I was left with raging stomach pains after digesting this monster.

0.5 stars out of 5.

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