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Biohell
Andy Remic
Solaris Books, 651 pages

Biohell
Andy Remic
When not motorcycling, mountain biking, snowboarding or climbing, there's little Andy Remic likes better than writing.

Andy Remic Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

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Military SF has never been as popular in the UK as it is in the US. Perhaps it is the fact that the British aren't very good with guns, as evidenced by scores of implausible Mockney gangster films. Perhaps it is a question of politics since British science fiction is often seen as monolithically liberal. That isn't the whole story though. After all, the considerably conservative Peter F. Hamilton is the best selling SF author in the UK. More recently and more conservatively, Neal Asher has carved out a popular niche writing violent reactionary adventure SF. Andy Remic takes this one step further.

Biohell picks and chooses from the grab bag of SF tropes -- a bit of cyberpunk here, an alien invasion there -- but it most clearly fits into the post-Andy McNabb publishing world, piggybacking on the glut of British special forces novels that followed the publication of Bravo Two Zero in 1993. Remic is slightly cruder and slightly funnier though. This is a book for blokes who like to go down the pub on Friday night and have ten pints and a curry and then do the same again on Saturday. On the very first page we are introduced to the main character thus:

Keenan revved the bike hard, 1250cc LC12 titanium lekradite single-cyclinder engine growling harsh, like a caged SPAW before its alloy breakfast. Sunlight glimmered on Keenan's piss-lot lid with raised black visor, and he lit a home-rolled cigarette and breathed deep on Widow Maker tobacco.
Remic is very much a nuts and bolts type of guy; at one point, he even refers to a spaceship as having "pistons." His characters take after him. Keenan is the sort of bloke who thinks the Marlboro Man is a pouf (although, of course, he would spell it "puff"). He is a man's man and this book, with its casual misogyny throughout, is not one you can imagine many women picking up. Even if you can put aside this machismo though, even if all you want is a book about blowing shit up, there is still not much to recommend Biohell.

You can't imagine Remic sitting down at his desk, rolling up his sleeves and getting down to some methodical plotting. The result is that this stubby brick of a book lurches around rather uncertainly for the first couple of hundred pages. When it does settle down on its path it soon becomes clear that Remic is just making it up as he goes along. There is no attempt to make the plot believable or, even, coherent, let alone concentrating on niceties like structure and pace. Characters flail from plot coupon to McGuffin to deus ex machine without any real direction. It is just an excuse for Keenan and his best mate Franco to go round killing people and gawking at cool stuff. Except the cool stuff isn't even that cool. It feels secondhand, lacks in any wow factor and betrays a writer with limited horizons. Half way through the book a minor character passes on some information to Keenan:

"Cristiane Solomonsson. That's right. A real crazy name; even against the craziness of The City."
This illustrates two things: Remic's terrible ear for naturalistic dialogue (everything after that semi-colon is a really bad idea) and the impoverished world view and stunted imagination he and his characters share (that just isn't a crazy name). The book is set thousands of years in the future but it could be set last week: there are references to Nazis, Arnie and even Ronan Keating. A particularly insular Britishness is on display here which might be a good corrective to the parochial American world view so prevalent in SF except for the fact that two wrongs don't make a right.

When I opened this book I was hoping for something like David Gunn's Deaths Head series: gung ho adventure SF with the wit to know its strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately this is just witless.

Copyright © 2009 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in East London. His reviews have appeared in venues including Vector, Strange Horizons and The New York Review of Science Fiction. He blogs at Everything Is Nice.


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