I abandon my laboured song-inspired post titles, at last, because I’m also abandoning Matthew Reilly’s Seven Ancient Wonders. At least for the time being. I will now provide minor justifications for this drastic action, in case all the others weren’t reason enough.

Super-

Adding the word “super” to other words doesn’t make them super. It makes the author sound like a child. Knowing he isn’t one, it makes the author sound like a dick. When that inlet was described as having super-deep walls I wanted to slap Reilly silly. There are other examples. The final straw was his describing the armour-piercing bullets as being “super-lethal” – fuck me. Good thing he didn’t go into advertising. “Don’t settle for more – have extra-more.” This is pathetic writing on a piddling-small scale.

Interestingly, however

Throughout the book (okay, okay, the first half anyway) Reilly punctures his text with sentences starting Interestingly comma, or Curiously comma. However comma. “Fine, comma, whatever” says I. In the third chapter, several characters are sat around a table waiting for that vital meeting and one starts reading a briefing kit entitled “The Golden Capstone”. Guess which words, which phrase structures, feature. Reilly has only one narrative voiceeven a text within his narrative employs the same voice.

He – he just – he can’t – he – he. It’s. I mean.

If you asked Matthew Reilly to write a shopping list, would it read like one of his novels?

That, of course, is a rhetorical question.

The god-damned mother-fucking Italics

I didn’t mention this in the previous post, but the following truly is the reason why I’m calling a halt and moving on. I’ve made the point about Reilly’s spectacular misuse of italics already. However, comma, in The Battle Of Guantanamo Bay chapter the big stupid stealth jumbo jet makes its landing on an unusual improvised airstrip. After describing Gitmo’s wiry horrors, Reilly concludes:

It is a forbidding installation, one of the bleakest places on Earth.

And yet after all that, only 500 metres from the Camp’s outermost razor-wire fence is something you would find only in an American military base: a golf course.

It’s that golf course they land on, naturally. Now, I know what Reilly means. I know he doesn’t mean to suggest that all of Scotland is one massive US military base, even though you can’t turn left there without someone screaming Fore in the distance. He means to say not that golf-courses are only found on military bases, but that they are –

…something you would only find in an American military base…

– thus, by italicising, emphasising an essential difference between US and Non-US combat facilities. So, after littering his writing with misplaced, misinformational italics, when he actually needs to use them… he doesn’t. I would have more sympathy if, due to carpal tunnel syndrome, his little finger kept dropping on the Shift key and half the novel was in block capitals – but italics have to be used by conscious choice. Reilly goes out of his way to call his own consciousness into question.

Yes, I admit it, I’m still just having some fun at the guy’s expense, but there are proper reasons why I feel a longing for something that (comparatively) soars to the levels of quality demonstrated by Dan Brown – even, to a lesser extent, good old Clive Cussler. My feelings about both of them are well documented here, their many dire failures of characterisation, plotting and prose – but at least they demonstrate the barest bones of what it takes to be a writer. Matthew Reilly has set a benchmark for inability that would turn away even the most flexible of literary limbo dancers.

In a way I feel admiration for him. Reilly has achieved what I and many other amateurs can only dream of – he writes for a living, and what he writes is read by many. In a much greater way, though, I feel contempt. He can put words on a page and he can tell a story, but only in the most superficial of ways. This happened and this happened and this happened and this happened. Often with exclamation marks, onomatopoeia and unnecessary swearing! Twat! Shit! Boof! This happened!

A large proportion of this contempt I feel is reserved for Pan Macmillan, or Macmillan, or whatever they want to be called – how can a publisher possibly consider this worthy of release? I presume they open manuscripts before acceptance, and in what I’ve actually read of 7AW there has been only one spelling error for example – but no competent editor can have assessed this and not found it horribly wanting. The comedy exploding of this pamphlet to book proportions is the final cynical cherry on the turd trifle – take my last paragraph and hit carriage return three times before every capital letter to complete the picture. It stinks of fear, either on his part or that of Pan McDonald’s, that some of Reilly’s fans might realise they are paying too much money for too little ink.

That there is a fan base out there to worry over is dismaying in itself. Reilly’s success far outstrips his skill – and don’t mistake all this criticism for genre snobbery either. I’m all for a good thriller, I love science fiction, give me bit of horror any day of the week – but I expect some craft as well as imagination. Reilly barely has even the latter, but when it comes to craftsmanship I wouldn’t trust him to nail his thumb to a door. Unless there were zombies approaching the other side of it.

So, you know what? I can’t be bothered.

Instead I’m going to reminisce, but in my old age the dates and years grow hazy, so bear with me. When I was (let’s say) ten, I started to read a Harry Harrison novel called Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers. I was young and I didn’t see deeply enough into it to recognise it as a work of satire. All I saw was cliché and, for the first time in my life as a reader, I put a book down unfinished. I was glad to do so. It sat on a shelf for a long time, glanced at and passed over with disdain, until, faced with a family holiday and a minimum of six hours in the back of the car, I deliberately picked it up again – specifically so I could say I’d never left a man behind, no matter how incompetent he was.

Of course, it turned out to be great. Affectionate parody of the sf genre, positive mockery of social conventions like race, gender, sexuality, etc. etc. I read it cover to cover by the time we arrived (at a farm in Wales) and finished it with a smile on my face. I know with certainty that Seven Ancient Wonders could be read in that time, probably twice over – but I also know that my only grin at the end of it would be a rictus.

Leave no man behind.

I’m not at all sure I’ll tell the chopper pilot to turn back for Matthew Reilly – but if we do happen to swing round again, maybe I’ll take pity and unload a full clip at him.

As a mercy.

For us all.

Fuck this crap, I’m going to read Angels And Demons.

Never thought I’d say that.

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