First, a retraction: I jumped unfairly to a conclusion, that Lily had call-signed Max Epper “Wizard” in chapter one, when in truth it doesn’t say that at all. I was wrong, so it’s perfectly reasonable for him to already be called that before she was born, as clearly happened in chapter two. Maybe he gave himself his call-sign, the way everyone in the present chapter does; and so, if he’s a massive wanker, it is perfectly reasonable. I hope Reilly’s lawyers will now drop that suit, thank you very much. On to the positives.
If I had to give Matthew Reilly credit for something – if I had to, gun-against-the-forehead had to – which, in fact, is exactly the situation I find myself in, hence my bringing it up – if, as I say, I had to give Matthew Reilly some credit as an author, surprisingly enough I think I could do it. In one regard, to date, here at the end of chapter three and, looking ahead, throughout the entire book, he has honed a skill demonstrably well beyond the capacities of both Cussler and Brown – yet it is merely a basic feature of the novel.
You see, Reilly actually uses chapters. Brown doesn’t. He double-numbers his pages, which is not the same thing – Cussler does this too. It’s very annoying to anyone who can devote more than two minutes a day to reading. Or who is able to follow a story without taking a mental breather after turning a page. Or who might own a bookmark.
Reilly, by striking contrast, collects chains of events together into an identifiable subsection of the text, chooses to preface them with a distinctive label, then does the same thing a reasonable but not excessive number of times, finally adds a cover and calls this strange object a book. It’s weird to see a total amateur absolutely nail it when the established pros still can’t get their heads around the concept. With Brown, it’s like you asked a journeyman builder to make you a sturdy outdoor toilet and he cemented all the bricks together pointing upwards, not sideways.
Huh. Now why does that last sentence seem both redundant and familiar in its detail? Ah yes, from chapter one:
This was a great uneven crevice that ran all the way down the rockwall (sic) , cutting across the ledges and the rockface (sic) with indifference (stupid) . It looked like a dry riverbed, only it ran vertically not horizontally.
Now there is a paragraph two words too long (at least) – but (at least) it is a part of a proper chapter, more or less, and not something barely a page long that is treated like a chapter. Actually, don’t get me wrong: Reilly sort of manages to do that as well. It’s just he doesn’t try to convince you each occurrence is a chapter, when clearly they aren’t. In fact, he doesn’t try to convince you of anything. He just does it. ALL THE TIME.
Let me give you a for example. On page 96 (that’s in chapter three, which is entitled “A Meeting Of Nations”) after the eighth line there is a break in the text. It isn’t the first (although it is a reilly special example, which I will underline shortly) and it sure won’t be the last. I don’t think it has been done for any other reason than to add gravitas to a beat in the conversation which it interrupts – and this is, more or less, the same reason for every other instance as well, be it an action sequence, dialogue, chunk of backstory, whatever: key sentence, text break, and continue. This is the form of Reilly’s writing.
But like I say, this one is special. It goes like this – in fact, let’s have it formatted, right from the top of the page (all capital letters and Best Of albums are the author’s own):
96 xxx MATTHEW REILLY
also the one who, according to legend, broke the Capstone down
into its seven individual Pieces–so that no one man could ever
have it whole again. He then had those Pieces spread to the distant
corners of the world, to be buried within seven colossal monu-
ments, the seven greatest structures of his age.”
“Who?” Abbas said, leaning forward. Sometimes my post titles just write themselves.
“The only man ever to rule the entire world of his era,” Epper
said. “Alexander the Great.”
[ TEXT BREAK ]
“Seven colossal monuments?” Abbas said suspiciously. “You’re talk-
ing about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? Alexander had
the seven Pieces of the Capstone buried within the Seven Wonders?”
What you can’t see here, and what makes this a reilly special example of the text break approach to narrative tension, is that after those first eight lines of text on page 96, there is nothing. The text resumes (with, as you can see, the very next horrifyingly leaden utterance of the exact same conversation) eight empty lines down on page 97.
That, for those lacking a visual imagination (Matthew), is one complete page-worth of paper. Wasted. Of course, it would be fair to say that the printing of text onto all the rest is hardly saving it from total wastage either. The weird thing is, this same conversation – which more or less comprises the whole chapter – is broken up any number of times before and after (three times on the spreads immediately flanking 96/97 alone) and yet never to this glaring extent. I Wonder (Shit. One misplaced capital and now I have to pay royalties to those Swedish vampires. Thanks a fuck-load, Matthew, your bad habits are rubbing off) whether length of text break is intended to correspond to duration of awestruck silence on the part of everyone listening to Max. I mean Epper. Or do I mean Wizard ? Christ, Reilly, pick a fucking name for the poor bastard and stick with it – you utter shit bird.
Ahhh. I feel like I’m really getting into my ranting stride now so I guess it’s time for the chapter summary. Basically, this “most important meeting” is one in which, judging by the rhetoric, eight of the world’s more emotionally insecure nations get together to stamp their feet and moan about how they are getting left out of the game by the big selfish rich kid and his “popular gang” rivals. They decide, to continue the metaphor, to collect one part of the ball everyone else wants for themselves and go running home to mummy. This is the conclusion of this vital meeting: if we can’t play, no-one can play.
Sadly they can’t just let the world’s fourth best soldier – Australia’s only representative at the chat – go at it solo, so all the other count-ries ( nope, that joke just doesn’t work in print ) involved have to nominate a team member to join in the fun spoiling.
The seven delegations formed into huddles, whispered amongst themselves. Since he was his own delegation, West didn’t need to discuss anything with anyone. What a rock he is. Simon and Garfunkel would cream themselves for this guy.
All the chosen ones turn out to be conveniently present, which lends matters the air of a rather foregone conclusion. That air is swiftly changed for one of spluttering ridicule (at least in my vicinity) when, one by one, this herd of gaping ring pieces step forward and introduce themselves. Like this:
“Captain Zahir al Anzar al Abbas, heavy arms, explosives, 1st Commando Squadron, at your command. Call-sign: Saladin.”
Bleeding fuck. Gobbing out his brand name at the end like that. He sounds like a Power Ranger. I can’t even bring myself to pity his tired limbs. But the next one is even better.
Then the Spaniards’ representative stood: tall, handsome and athletic, he looked like Ricky Martin, only tougher.
Ay, Macarena, hoy, wort eeeees gggggghyour corl-sayn, seeeenyor? Fuck you, you racist pig. It’s Matador. Nothing wrong with that. Except it means “killer”, which is why most bullfighters call themselves Toreros. Do some fucking research, igmo (actually, I just realised: Ricky Martin here is Noddy – who gets his head detonated right at the start. So, you know… nice one). Then they all do it. “Here’s me, I can do this. Call-sign: Road Kill.”
“Call-sign: Toe Rag.”
“Call-sign: Monkey Drummer.”
And do they somehow pronounce that colon, or do they just say it?
“Call-sign colon Colon.”
Yet, something more annoying than all this rampant geyness keeps tweaking my balls, and I’m only now starting to figure out what. First it says “eight nations”. Then, while West is all being an island up in everyone’s face, it refers to “the seven delegations” – but then there’s him too, for Australia, right? So that’s still eight, right? Now (bare with me here) every delegation nominates one representative except for the Irish, who get two because one of them is the team’s only chick, so that means nine representatives of those eight nations… right?
And there they stood, around the wide table, the nine chosen representative of eight small nations who were about to embark on the mission of their lives.
[ TEXT BREAK ]
They would acquire a tenth member soon – Stretch, from Israel – but he would not be a member of their choosing.
Okay, so that’s the Ten members of the heroic tea-
Weren’t they being referred to as the Nine back in chapter one? …yes, they were. They even listed all their gey-signs: Wizard, Huntsman, Witch Doctor (who is a Jamaican…) Archer, Bloody Mary (the chick), Saladin, Matador and Gunman.
And then most of them get re-geyed by Lily (who we also discover now was herself actually named by West), leading to Wizard (no change), Woodsman (sexually dubious, coming from a ten year old), Fuzzy (+ wuzzy = racism), Stretch (ah, who was Archer – so, the, from Israel, who’s name we’ve not got to yet, I think), Princess Zoe (lez gamer tag), Pooh Bear (paedophile), Noddy and Big Ears (paedophile tag team).
…but that’s still only eight. They became the Nine with Lily, but that’s only eight real people, plus a kid – who isn’t at this meeting anyway. Who has stepped up to the plate in chapter three? West, check, Wizard, check, Saladin, Matador, Witch Doctor, Sky Mon–
SKY MONSTER! Right, the New Zealander who flies the impossible 747! Phew, thought I was going mad there for a moment. Okay, so, one more time, the final nine team members from the eight countries are:
Wizard (Canada, eh);
Saladin (United Arab Emirates);
Witch Doctor (Jamaica);
Sky Monster (clearly a dick – er, I mean Kiwi);
Bloody Mary (Irish); and
Gunman (Irish Two).
[ MATHS BREAK ]
Oh, plus tenth member Stretch Armstrong still to come, means…
[ VERY LONG FACT-CHECKING MATHS BREAK ]
…means Matthew Reilly can’t fucking count.