Deep Ice: In a Brave New World (DG Leigh’s The Massacre of Mankind: War of the Worlds)

That is epic levels of ‘stache.

It is January 1, 2017. If you are reading this, you were there. President-Elect D- Irm. President-Elect Do-. FUCK THIS NOISE. Okay. Right. Blah blah something about how he “knows things other people don’t” about Russian interference in the election. I wonder what that could possibly mean… A prankster uses tarpaulins to temporarily change the “HOLLYWOOD” sign to read “HOLLYWEED”. There’s a terror-related shooting at a nightclub in Turkey and a suicide-related shooting at one in Brazil.

TV’s repeats, obviously. We’re a week on now from Doctor Who‘s Christmas special and real-2016’s only new Who, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”, which was fun, but filled me with dread that Harmony Shoal would be a recurring villain, having appeared both in this special, and last year’s “The Husbands of River Song”. Sherlock returns tonight with “The Six Thatchers”. Mariah Carey, Demi Lovato and Gloria Estefan are among the performers on Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve. I am so old now that I have literally never heard of any of the songs in the top ten.

Guess who didn’t learn his lesson last week! Oh yeah, we are returning to the world of D. G. Leigh with The Massacre of Mankind, billed as “The Unofficial Sequel to The War of the Worlds”. And once again, there’s some title confusion; the cover art seems to present the title as Artilleryman Needs You, which would kinda be a better title. Credit where it’s due, though: that is a cool cover. It’s reminiscent of the old “Uncle Sam Needs You To Join the Army” posters, but the art style and the presence of Mars in the background give it a threatening aspect. The mustachioed visage of the Artilleryman in his high-collared black uniform has obvious fascist tones to it, but more than that, I think it’s very obviously trying to call to mind the “Big Brother is Watching” posters of 1984. And the tripods and fleeing couple rendered as negative space cut out of the Artilleryman’s uniform are lovely. There’s something that just feels very retro-sci-fi, evoking any number of ’70s and ’80s short-lived “Heroes fleeing from a pursuer through a strange fantasy world” TV seriesAnd, of course, the old Sci-Fi Channel-specific logo for Doctor Who. The page headers go with The Massacre of Mankind: The War of the Worlds, but the title page, to make things worse, goes with The War of the Worlds: Brave New World. I am suspicious about the title. I kinda suspect that Leigh is going for a Transmorphers thing here, and expects most of his sales to go to people who have made a mistake.

Leigh is still full of interesting ideas and is able to keep up an exciting narrative, but once again, he’s stuffed the book too-full with more ideas than the narrative can comfortably support. And once again, his prose is largely artless and telegraphic. I feel bad for him; Leigh could probably be a decent writer if he had a good editor to help him polish his prose and reign him in.

While Sherlock Holmes vs The War of the Worlds mashed up two classic Victorian icons, The Massacre of Mankind is a more modern take on Victoriana. It’s a steampunk sequel. Well, sort of; it has a lot of the trappings of steampunk, but it’s stylistically more like cyberpunk — steampunk usually has a very different attitude, drawing from Verne and Wells, with themes that fit well with Victorian ideals about gallant men going out adventuring and finding exciting new worlds and exploiting them. This book, though, is set in a world of post-apocalyptic underground cities, with 31337 hacking and cyborg gunslingers. There are dirigibles, sure, but there’s also honest-to-goodness flying cars.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like Sherlock, Massacre is prefaced with apologies (or “Apologises”) from the author about his playing hard and fast with fact in his story about a turn-of-the-century authoritarian underground civilization besieged by alien invaders from Mars. It’s not as awkward as last time: he apologizes for referencing a seamount that wouldn’t be discovered until the ’50s and for playing hard and fast with the physics of a space elevator. Next is a very strange dedication, to the “gallant souls” who gave their lives at the battle of Anton Dorhn Seamount. Which is the battle at the climax of the book. He dedicated the book to minor characters in the book. He goes on to, I don’t know, name them? This doesn’t make sense at all. Under the title “HMS Phoenix Child” is a list of eight names presented in pairs, as though he’s giving a cast list. “Darren (Ulla) Dunn ….. Harwich”, “George Lindsey …… Ascot”, and so on. I’m not even sure if the names listed here appear in the text of the book. Best I can guess, he based certain minor characters on real people in his life, and he’s giving the cast list here, purely as a shout-out to his buddies. Or not, I’ve no idea.

Next, we get a quick summary of the premise which spoils most of the major plot points. It’s twenty years after the invasion, and the Artilleryman has become the dictatorial ruler of New London. The surface is largely uninhabitable in England due to the persistence of the carnivorous red weed. France, Germany, and a united independent Ireland have formed a coalition that’s at war with New London, but [sic] “Unable to replicate a certain Martian alloy, Marsuminium. Their alien-hybrid-steam-tank division edge ever closer to New London’s research laboratories hoarding stock piles of fighting machines.” Artilleryman (I’m probably going to slip into using “the” with him, but the book treats it as his name), having gained control of the lion’s share of Martian technology, has had its secrets unlocked and developed an arsenal of high-tech defenses.

But the Martians haven’t given up on conquest, and now, an orbiting space station is melting the polar ice caps in order to disrupt human civilization as much of the world’s population is displaced due to sea level rise, and a Martian sea platform acts as their beachhead for a new ground invasion.

We’ll spend roughly half the novel working our way up to the stuff that was just explained in that anteprologue. Then we get a prologue which basically tells the end of the war from the Martians’ perspective, with the dying aliens sending back a warning to their homeworld.

Then there’s an appendix to the prologue which covers ground we’ve already covered, briefly outlining the invasion of Britain by French and German forces, and how they were ultimately repelled by the red weed and Artilleryman’s greater supply of Martian technology.

And then there’s another appendix to the prologue about Artilleryman’s rise to power. His major qualification was simply that he’d survived. He lucked into commandeering a tripod and made a name for himself by using it to fend off French and German attackers. Good luck and charisma got the military to back him, and in the lawless chaos left by the invasion, he was able to build a new civilization, just as he’d planned, using heat rays to excavate an underground city.

We mercifully begin the story proper with the introduction of the narrator, who calls himself “Pockets”. He’s the son of Journalist (narrator of the original novel) and his wife, Carrie (h/t to Jeff Wayne’s musical). This was actually explained back in the second or third prologue, but I wanted to leave something until dramatically apropos. Journalist and Carrie had fled New London after he had a falling out with Artilleryman, but were forced to leave Pockets behind. Pockets grew up as a social outcast, his engineering genius unnoticed and unappreciated, and eventually became a criminal: a dealer of illegal books.

That’s a wonderful idea to splash into this dystopia. The Artilleryman is always depicted as having disdain for poetry and literature, and here, it’s contraband. Pockets smuggles books of nursery rhymes and poetry to people who’ll pay black market prices for the stuff, which paints a lovely picture of what kind of bleak existence Artilleryman has made in his underground police state.

Now say it along with me: Nothing Ever Comes Of It.

As I mentioned, Pockets is a mechanical genius, and it’s this, rather than the book smuggling thing, which is the primary mechanism through which the story moves forward. Among his early inventions is a steam-powered mechanical dog, Pooch, who serves as a sidekick for about half of the book. There’s some well-intentioned but not especially effective attempts to give Pooch some character: he vents steam through his rear so we can do fart jokes about the robot dog. And, not having ever heard a real dog, Pockets didn’t know what they sounded like, so he programmed Pooch to moo like a cow.

It’s Pooch who gets Pockets into book-dealing, locating a supply of illegal books and somehow working out on its own that Pockets could trade them for parts necessary to build a “sky-cycle” with which he could finally leave the city. We sort of skip ahead from there to what Pockets means to be his last deal, trading a banned bible to a vicar in exchange for a Martian power pack.

It doesn’t go well: the preacher (or “Preacher”) draws a gun on him, revealing himself as an undercover enforcer for Artilleryman, and he seems to have a personal beef with Pockets: “Your father also possessed. A sinner in league with Satan. Must be a bloodline trait? An unholy contract signed.”

Yeah, turns out that Preacher is the Curate. He’d miraculously survived being captured by the Martians, but retains a grudge against Journalist and his entire line for cold-cocking him and abandoning him. Pockets is able to escape, but finds Preacher and the police lying in wait for him when he returns home. Pooch sacrifices himself, taking six bullets to buy Pockets a chance to escape, which he does by sealing a tunnel hatch on Preacher’s arm.

With neither Pooch nor his sky-bike, Pockets stows away on a transport to an outer borough and uses his hacking skills to set up a false identity for himself there. We prance forward in time again while he sets himself up in the new development and secures a forgotten watchtower in which to build a new sky-bike, this time simply stealing what he needed from construction supplies, making me wonder why he was doing it the hard way before.

Discovered access to the forgotten watchtower network that originally protected us from the French and Germans while the caverns for Artilleryman’s brave new metropolis were being excavated STOP Used afterwards as Earth bound observation posts STOP Keenly viewed for any signs of a repeat attack launched from Mars STOP Once established and secure underground, the deeper the construction went the less frequent visits paid to the lookouts STOP Spread of the red weed kept the Free Lands at bay, the towers eventually mothballed, resources put to better use STOP Their glass domes covered with blast shields STOP Outside gantry doors wielded shut STOP

Having lost a sidekick in the previous chapter, it’s time to add a new supporting character.  Pockets eventually meets his neighbor, Tubance, “An orphan war child brought to the city by strangers. Found with two pennies in her top pocket, that’s how she’d come-by her name. Still kept the coins safe.” He’s immediately smitten:

How’d come [sic] she smelt [sic] so wonderful? The ways of the old world gone. No more indulgent imports from Paris of the latest boutique perfumes. Those frivolous fancies along with idle gossip of shocking vogue fashion fresh from Milan’s designer houses all belonged in a unattainable forgotten past.

A couple of paragraphs later, he’s made the “mistake” of falling in love with her. We skip ahead weeks or months, and Pockets has finished his sky-bike, but is dawdling on his escape due to his relationship. When he finally does decide to make his escape, he takes Tubance to his watchtower workshop to give her a chance to see the stars. Which, as it does, leads to sex.

They’re interrupted by guards who’ve noticed that the watchtower’s blast shield is open. Pockets hides Tubance and tries to convince them that he’s an inspector doing his rounds. They believe him, but are still duty-bound to take him in and file a report. The guards fail to see a “shooting star” that coincidentally falls during their conversation, but the narrator assures us that this heralds the arrival of the Martian super-cylinder that would, “Mark the start of New London’s collapsing foundations.”

Though Pockets’s cover identity, George Wells, level six engineer, holds up under scrutiny, the Artilleryman’s brave new world is largely powered by prison labor. After the initial excavation, the need to conserve heat rays had prompted a shift to a more pickaxe-based technology, as, “Artilleryman decided that a pickaxe and shovel were good enough tools to be getting on with, he wasn’t the one slaving and dying.”

So once they determine that he won’t be missed, the minor infraction of not having filed the proper paperwork is considered sufficient to merit our hero being shipped off to the mines. With Tubance sidelined, it’s time for our third sidekick, Pockets’s cell-mate, Zero. Zero’s a bruiser with no legal identity due to an unregistered birth. Pockets impresses him by insulting him while he’s killing another inmate. Leigh’s musings on prison buddies is about the most eloquent thing he’s written in two books:

I’ve learnt that there’s three types of friends you make in life. Those first in childhood. When you’re innocent. Free from envy, greed and the biological urge to f**k. When a friendship doesn’t have an alternative agenda for gain. The second is an unbreakable bond that comes from fighting with comrades on the battlefield. Included in this second category is also your prison cell companion. The third form of friendship is everyone else and doesn’t count for shit.

 

After a tangent about how miners frequently fall victim to a parasitic worm that came to Earth with the Martians and now lives in the ground (this goes nowhere, but provides a chance for a some horrifying imagery about being eaten from the inside-out), we once again prance ahead a bit, and find Pockets hauled off to an interrogation room. They present him with a miniature steam-powered reproduction tripod and demand he help them solve its balance issues.

When he feigns ignorance, the Preacher reappears, now sporting a robot arm and carrying the remains of Pooch. The jig up, Pockets looks at the source code for the tripod’s stability. See, this is what I mean about it feeling more like cyberpunk than steampunk: I shouldn’t be seeing a discussion about software bugs and computer viruses. Pockets recognizes that the flaw was deliberate, and Preacher reveals that it was the work of a saboteur, now deceased. Though hiding the full extent of his skill, he programs the tripod to right itself, then smashes it, which nearly wins him execution before a voice over the loudspeaker stays the Preacher’s hand (We’re not told what the voice says, and who it is is revealed in the next chapter).

Pockets and Zero are taken to a secret military factory where they meet the Artilleryman in person. The characterization of Artilleryman is another place where I’ll give Leigh his due credit. He’s a complex character, and he comes off pretty realistically, as an image-conscious dictator who knows how to couch his brutality. And there’s real ambiguity about the extent to which he believes his own hype about his regime being a necessary evil to preserve civilization.

Artilleryman offers Pockets his freedom in exchange for working to undo the computer virus that’s attacking his new arsenal. He’s got tripods retrofitted for human use,and more. The Martians hadn’t been able to perfect flight in Earth’s gravity, but the Artilleryman’s engineers have salvaged a Martian metal that weighs “particular [sic] nothing” and built a fleet of flying ships. Now that his botanists have genetically engineered (Genetic engineering? In steampunk?) food crops that can compete against the red weed, he plans to use The Phoenix Child, The Blessed Child and The Devoted Child to defend the people of New London as they return to the surface.

He offers Pockets a pardon for both himself and Zero in exchange for purging the virus from their systems. Pockets is reunited with Tubance, who reveals that she’s pregnant. It isn’t especially relevant to the plot. And again, we’re speeding through the boring parts. Tubance reveals that she’s part of the Free Lands Movement, the resistance force responsible for sabotaging the tripod balance software. In addition to the ships he’d shown Pockets, Artilleryman has an entire battle fleet of smaller flying ships, and means to conquer the world with Martian technology.

She plans to blow the factory up, but Pockets convinces her to give him time to fake a warp core breach catastrophic malfunction so that the workers will evacuate first. He resurrects Pooch, but Zero is revealed as an undercover New London operative. He disarms Tubence’s bomb, and the pair are confronted by Artilleryman. He cops to building a massive battlefleet, but reveals that the Martians have returned, and that the melting ice caps mean that New London will soon be inundated. He claims that the three large ships are the best he can manage for refugees from the impending climate catastrophe, and offers a place on Phoenix Child to Pockets and Tubence in exchange for their help.

The matter becomes moot when Preacher tries to shoot Pockets. Pockets and Tubence escape in the tripod, but wake the next morning to find Preacher has followed them in a prototype flying ship thanks to a tracking device on Pooch. Before he can do anything about it, though, the whole lot of them are captured by United Scottish forces who arrive via dirigible. Pooch, Pockets, Tubence and Preacher are all taken captive, along with the proto-ship.

A confederation of Free Land, Scottish and European forces have engaged the Martians with their own alien-enhanced weapons but were obliterated. Convinced of the seriousness of the situation, Preacher tells Commander Baxter (Hm… What could that name be a reference to…) about Artilleryman’s fleet, and its heat ray-resitant Marsuminium armor, and enters an uneasy alliance with the others.

Baxter brings their plan to the confederation: if they can persuade the Artilleryman to join in the attack, they mean to assault the Martian Leviathan, and from there, use the space-elevator to reach the orbiting outpost where the Martians send pulped humans for shipment back to Mars. From that platform, they would drop a bomb down to the weapons platform in lower orbit. While there, they would also introduce a genetically engineered bioweapon into the food shipments.

It’s a hard sell; the commander, Colonel Wayne doesn’t even believe New London and Artilleryman exist. But with Baxter on their side, Pockets is able to abscond with the proto-ship to return to New London and make is proposal. Coming with him are Preacher, and an envoy: The Historian formerly known as Journalist. Yes, at long last, Pockets is reunited with his father.

We’re not privy to the details of how they persuade Artilleryman to join their alliance. What we actually see of the meeting consists of Art Artilleryman waxing poetic about the symbolism of memorial statues and how his underground civilization has been dying for years, an Ouroboros, eating itself.

Jump cut to the New London fleet approaching the Leviathan. Pockets and his father accompany Preacher on The Devoted Child. Historian confesses to his son about his suicide attempt on Primrose Hill, a scene that manages to be touching despite how haphazardly it’s crammed in.

The Martians quickly discover that their heat rays won’t work on the problem children, but come up with a new plan: they seed the clouds, causing a massive thunder storm. Lightning destroys Blessed Child and cripples Phoenix Child, which makes me suspect Leigh got the ships backwards when he wrote his dedication. Pockets saves Devoted Child with a line that out Star Treks some of Star Trek‘s most technobabbley technobabble: “I can rerouted [sic] our zero-point drive exhausts through the aft-gun’s couplings to emit energy clusters,” which directs the lightning away from the ship. Even so, Devoted Child is losing power and maneuverability as the static electricity interferes with their computers. They just used the phrase “zero-point drive” in a steampunk book.

With their original plan sunk, Pockets plans to breach the Leviathan on his sky-cycle to deliver the bomb by hand. Preacher and Pooch accompany him as bodyguards, so I guess they’re all friends now, which is the sort of thing that could be touching if it happened over the course of a long story and not in the space of a chapter and a half.

The whole climax is just a mess, with too much going on. The trip into the Leviathan is dangerous, with many “trials-by-fire” (I am surprised he pluralized that correctly) awaiting the heroes. Which we promptly skip past because in the next chapter, they get to the space-elevator. “Hey! I can see God’s house from here!” Pockets quips, making me wish the Preacher would shoot him.

Security on the space station is light, but still exists: Pockets takes a hit from a heat ray which destroys his space helmet. Fortunately, it’s low-powered, as the Martians know better than to risk shooting holes in their own ship. Preacher dispatches them with a gas grenade full of bacteria. Another well-thought-out touch: Preacher assumes the Martians have by now been inoculated against natural Earth bacteria, but his arsenal is an engineered strain.

But inspecting the bomb for damage, Pockets discovers that it’s a dud: Artilleryman had deliberately set them up to fail so that he could capture the Leviathan and weapons platform for himself. The bomb works (it needed to be convincing), but its heat shielding is too thin to survive the trip from the food processing platform to the weapons platform.

Since he won’t survive without a helmet anyway, he tells Preacher to leave without him and looks for a way to shield the bomb with materials on the station. In a good use of setup-and-payoff, Pooch repeats his earlier trick of using his own initiative to show Pockets the solution to reaching his goal: the mechanical dog rolls over and exposes its belly.

On Earth, the confederation somehow destroy the Leviathan. They never explain how they manage that, since the whole point of involving the Artilleryman was that only his Marsumumium-shielded ships could get close. But with the bottom end of the space elevator destroyed, the space station is drifting out of orbit. Also, Preacher refers to Pockets as “Mr. Wizard”, which I didn’t think was a thing until Don Herbert got his show. Pockets first thinks of using the one remaining Crew Recovery Vehicle to deliver the bomb instead of Pooch, but the Martian craft isn’t strong enough to survive entry into Earth’s thicker atmosphere. Instead, he and Preacher maneuver the CRV into the space elevator shaft to use for their own escape. Pockets euthenizes Pooch and launches him at the weapons platform using the space-catapult normally used for launching food shipments back to Mars. This gives me the chance to make the one joke that might possibly justify my having to suffer through this book:

Note: Poochie died o nthe way back to his home planet

There is a part of me which wonders if this is the actual reason this character, or indeed this whole book, exists at all.

Not long after Pooch is launched, the shock wave from the snapping of the space elevator below reaches the station. While the station’s end of the elevator remains mostly intact, the force of impact collapses the supports holding the CRV. This would be the end of Pockets, without any way to survive the return to Earth, except that Preacher takes a face-full of razor-sharp nanofibers, which leaves him with a spare helmet. I think we’re up to like plan J by now, as Pockets modifies a captured heat ray handgun into a “sort of mobile zip-wire” by “modifying the photons with a feedback loop.”

Seriously, while the overall outline of this scene is interesting, and I can imagine it making an exciting scene if adapted to the screen, as written, it’s just a clusterfuck. It’s like Leigh couldn’t settle on one plan for how things were to go, so we basically cycle through a half-dozen fully plotted out scenarios for how things are going to go, with each one being interrupted and kicked back to the drawing board. First, Artilleryman’s flying ships are supposed to attack the Leviathan, then Pockets is going to go alone on his sky bike, with Pooch staying to protect his dad and Preacher running interference. Then he’s going to go via sky-bike with Pooch and Preacher. Then they’re going to crash the food station into the weapons platform with the bomb on board, then they’re going to put it in Pooch and toss him at it, then they’re going to try doing the same with a CRV, then they’re back to using Pooch and taking the CRV home, then they lose the CRV and Pockets is just going to jump for it. And at some point the Leviathan gets destroyed despite the confederation ships being established as not up to the task. (I finally worked that out. There actually is an explanation, I just missed it with everything else going on. The confederation had its own plan to destroy the Leviathan with the major wildcard being whether they could get close enough. They planned to blow up the seabed on the Anton Dohrn seamount, releasing a methane pocket that would change the buoyancy of the water under the Leviathan, so that it would sink and be buried by the collapsing sea floor. I missed this in two separate read-throughs. Also, I’m pretty sure that this was the plot of an episode of seaQuest DSV.) And until about halfway up the space elevator, there’s this running threat that the confederation will remote-detonate the bomb if they come to believe Pockets has failed in his mission, but they stop mentioning that and Pockets sets a timer on the bomb so it will at least blow something up if they get killed, giving them a literal ticking time bomb scenario… Until Pockets turns the timer off. Then they switch to a figurative ticking time bomb where there’s only twenty minutes until the bottom end of the space elevator leaves the atmosphere, but Pockets just hacks the station controls to reorient it and buy them an extra hour. There is also the strange assumption that as long as the bottom end of the space elevator tube is still in the Earth’s atmosphere, that’s good enough and they’ll survive the drop the rest of the way into the ocean. Maybe Leigh explained that away with some technobabble about their suits or something, but if he did, I missed it.

Speaking of technobabble, why is there a bunch of it all of a sudden? We’ve got zero-point energy now, and diamond nanotubes and crew recovery vehicles and photonic feedback loops. Also, a moment of false tension when Pockets squeezes in the threat that as the space elevator tube rises toward the edge of space, there might not be enough gravity for the CRV to actually fall down it, rather than being held by the station’s artificial gravity. I guess maybe that’s why he does the zip line thing with the heat ray, but he doesn’t actually say so. And what about scarecrow’s brain?

Sigh.

Anyway, he blacks out on the way down, but survives hitting the water at terminal velocity. He wakes aboard Devoted Child, where he explains Artilleryman’s duplicity to his father. Pockets is briefly worried about bringing this up in a ship belonging to Artillerman and crewed by his loyal commandos (And more, populated with the rescued crew of Phoenix Child), but, with no real transition, everyone is instantly on his side. Given that he’d just saved the Earth and lived to tell about it, he’s got enough clout that the crew declare him captain. The confederate ships, without needing to be told, somehow also know the stunt the Artilleryman has pulled and offer their assistance in apprehending him. So we end on a cliffhanger, with Pockets assuming command of the Devoted Child and setting a course for New London.

A cliffhanger.

Sequel bait.

Sigh.

That sigh isn’t just at the prospect that I’m going to have to read another DG Leigh book in a year. But if he was aiming for a trilogy, he coulda done that with what’s written already. There’s easily three books worth of story in The Massacre of Mankind. There’s easily three times as much plot in this book as it actually needs. Everything’s spread too thin. Tubance is only in about four scenes. Zero is only in about four scenes. Historian is only in about four scenes. Artilleryman is only in three, I think. The assault on the Leviathan is just a nightmare of tangled plot threads where hardly anything is dwelt on long enough to engage me.

In many ways, this book reminds me of Goliath. I mean, there’s obvious surface similarities. The basic plot of humans armed with adapted Martian technology fighting a renewed Martian invasion twenty years later is the most straightforward thing. And where Goliath had the shadow of World War I threatening to throw humanity into disunity at a critical moment, Massacre similarly has the Artilleryman’s dreams of conquest. There’s even the climactic battle between human airships and a Martian dreadnought.

But where the two tack really close is in the sense that I’m not reading a complete work, but rather a super-condensed highlights reel from a whole season of an ongoing series. Pockets being an illicit book dealer in New London should be four or five episodes, not a single chapter. His relationship with Tubance should be something that grows over time rather than a jump-cut from their meet cute to them banging in the observatory. Just like we saw with Sherlock Holmes vs The War of the Worlds, there’s plenty of good ideas in here, but no discipline with regards to which ones should actually have made it into the book; rather than ending on a forced sequel hook, this book could have ended basically anywhere and continued with its story in a sequel that gave the ideas space to grow.

Of course, where Massacre diverges from Goliath is in the fact that Goliath, for its structural flaws, is well-crafted on a technical level, beautiful to look at, with solid animation, great voice acting and pretty good dialogue. Leigh, on the other hand, hasn’t gotten any better at constructing actual sentences since Sherlock. Nouns frequently disappear, malapropisms come fast and frequent, and he’s not really clear on when you should use a question mark (It’s for questions. Not statements of uncertainty).

So it’s pretty much the same verdict as last time, and it’s still infuriating. There’s so many good ideas in here, and there’s a lot of promise. There’s characters that have promising ideas behind them. I have a bit of a hard time buying the Artilleryman as sufficiently competent to run an empire seemingly by himself — it would be easier to imagine him as a puppet of someone more sinister but less charismatic, like, say, Steve Bannon — but it certainly does seem like the civilization he’s created is the one the novel’s character would have built had he been able. And the whole idea of a charismatic narcissist taking over a country, flirting with open fascism, and defying an international coalition that’s trying to prevent catastrophic climate change seems… Perhaps a bit on-the-nose. Similarly, the weak-willed curate turning into this kind of mad-dog gunslinger stretches the imagination, but the concept is so attractive that I don’t mind. But the actual craft of the writing is seriously lacking, and that really ruins the reading experience.

Not that this is going to stop me from buying the sequel if it comes out. I’m dumb like that.


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