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Spiral
Andy Remic
Orbit paperback £5.99
   [no star rating]
review by Patrick Hudson

Sometime in the near future, Spiral is a super-secret organisation that combats terrorists and criminals that threaten to destabilise the world. Working outside of national and legal constraints, Spiral teams wipe out the scum of the Earth with hi-tech weapons and extreme prejudice keeping the unknowing masses safe from harm. However, mysterious and invulnerable black-clad assassins with identical copper-coloured eyes are wiping out the uber-capable Spiral tough guys and there seems to be a conspiracy to destroy Spiral from within. When retired super-agent Carter (no first name, apparently) is summoned for one final job, the anti-Spiral conspiracy tries to kill him and he vows revenge against them at any cost.
   The freewheeling adventure that follows is high on action and hardware, but low on writerly technique. The story chugs along from gunfight to car chase without any twists or turns along the way and Carter's eventual victory is never in doubt. That's par for the course, for this sort of thing, but the poor quality of the prose renders even the frenetic violence uninteresting.
   The clichés come thick and fast throughout - characters are either large men, big men or bear-like men, or women with athletic figures, such as hacking genius Jessica who "didn't work out often but when she did gave 200 percent - and this had provided her with a well-formed athletic figure that was the talk of the programming department." (This followed by the immortal lines: "She patted her belly. Still firm and strong, she sighed.") They say things like "And further moves have been placed across that great gaming board we call Earth," while another ponders "a feeling of melancholy... as she watched these tiny people in their tiny houses with their tiny lives."
   When not relying on clichés, Remic resorts either to the abstract ("They fumbled on, stopping at an insanely ambitious outpost.") the tautological ("The panoramic scene was colourless, bleached, a picture in black and white.") or the downright bizarre ("The Grey Death had spread like Godsfire... Paris had been wiped clean - ironic. Berlin had suffered a human enema.") All the description relates to how things look, and the other senses are left unexplored. Spiral is obviously heavily inspired by the ultra-violent action movies of the 1980s, and is written as if describing a film rather than experiencing any of the action firsthand.
   When he finds what he considers to be a handy metaphor, Remic is in the habit of repeating it, often within a few pages. So, the "startled 'O'" of sexual ecstasy on page 230 becomes "a silent 'O' of shock" on page 237. In fact, long stretches of the novel read like an unrevised first draft, which would explain odd character transformations such as the sudden appearance of the villain's tombstone teeth about two-thirds of the way through, and the lumbering (indeed, "bear like") Slater's mental aberration in chapter 13 which makes him talk briefly like the incredible Hulk before reverting back to the cardboard tough-guy talk used by everyone else in the novel.
   Much of this might be forgivable if Spiral had anything of any interest to say, but the SF elements are secondary to the action set-pieces (although this is identified as an Orbit Thriller rather that the usual Orbit Science Fiction). The plot Mcguffin - the QIII, a revolutionary computer processor ("The first ever cubic processor. The first ever cellular processor."), which can predict the future, infiltrate banks and military computers, take over battleships and bombers, and presumably slice, dice and julienne - doesn't really have much to do and is technologically unconvincing. Indeed the techno-thriller gadget fetish amounts to little more than a few brand names chucked around and the author's assurances that these are the best, fastest, most lethal etc without any technical detail to back the assertion up.
   I really can't be bothered enumerating Spiral's many other faults - the relentless obscenities, the stilted dialogue, the unpleasant sex, the witless humour, the creepy sexism - but for the first time ever I have read a book without redeeming feature. I guess this novel is aimed at the Tom Clancy/Lee Child/Andy McNab techno-thriller crowd, and I admit I'm not sure what the standard is in this market, but surely it cannot be as low as this? I seriously urge readers of The ZONE to avoid this novel at all costs, and just wish there was a way to anti-buy a book so that we could send a message to Orbit letting them know that we (and they) deserve better than this.
Spiral by Andy Remic

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