Sunday, March 11, 2012

Scarecrow strike

From LiveMint Lounge: Scarecrow strike
In the introduction to an anthology of 1970s science fiction stories, Isaac Asimov wistfully says how much he envies anyone who is about to read John W. Campbell Jr’s masterpiece Who Goes There?for the first time. This high praise ensures that anyone who has read the introduction immediately flips to the back to Who Goes There?

Most fans of Matthew Reilly’s thriller novels will have exactly the same feeling when introducing the author’s works to new readers. How lucky you are, they think if not enunciate, that you are about to discover Shane Schofield and Jack West Jr and maghooks and statues made of meteorite fragments and secret army bases and underground treasure chambers and... That list is as limitless as Reilly’s irrepressible, and irresistible, imagination. Over a series of some dozen full-length novels, Reilly has perhaps created a subgenre that is uniquely his: the “cardiac arrest-inducing techno-thriller”.

His plots usually take little more than a page or so to start. Perhaps a top secret weapon has been stolen from a military base, or a head of state is being ambushed during a visit to a remote research facility. Think of these early chapters as the part of the roller coaster where you judder up the hill before being flung down the other side.

Reilly’s latest novel, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, begins with an all-but-abandoned Russian weapons base in the Arctic being taken over by a mysterious band of brigands called the Army of Thieves. Some miles away, but of course, our hero Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield is testing new experimental weapons (how convenient), including a small weaponized robot (how much more convenient), with a small force of scientists and US marines (many of whom must and will die).

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves: By Matthew Reilly, Orion, 416 pages, ­£6.99 Rs 550)

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves: By Matthew Reilly, Orion, 416 pages, ­£6.99 Rs. 550)
A massive army of bad guys against a small troop of good guys is exciting enough for most thriller novels. But not for Reilly. So we also have a group of French special forces who have a score to settle with Scarecrow, and are looking for him in the Arctic in a large submarine, which is later obliterated in a relatively minor skirmish.

Everyone proceeds to kill everyone else. Sometimes several times over. Also, there are mutant polar bears and a doomsday weapon. Indeed, Reilly might be the first author to overlap the genres of mindless thriller and magical realism.

With around a dozen novels behind him, Reilly now has a formula down pat. All his action happens in remote locations, allowing him to blow up things willy-nilly without worrying about collateral damage. His locations are complex and vague and thus make necessary the crude line diagrams and maps that all his novels have in the beginning. Every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger that is unresolvable by the laws of this universe. The dialogue, an utterly unnecessary distraction here, is always revolting. But most of all, Reilly has developed the ability to co-opt the reader into surrendering every notion of credibility.

This surrender, you could say, is at the heart of all writing. And what Reilly has to offer makes this capitulation wonderfully worthwhile.

Matthew Reilly is by no means good writing. But it is awesome reading.

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