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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Them Feels, Bro

The book I am currently reading is called War In Heaven; it's by a chap named Gavin Smith, the second of a series that starts with a book called Veteran. It's scifi, hard-edged cybermilitary stuff. Imagine William Gibson getting drunk with Joe Haldeman.

Most of the characters in the book have rather obvious flaws, and those flaws are as much a part of who they are as their names. They are believable, they are integral - they're basically human beings, really. Jakob is the main character, a cybernetic veteran of a sixty-year war against an inhuman foe, previously of 5 Para and the SAS, special forces to the core. He comes across as very unlikeable at times. He has one hell of a temper, a propensity for self-destructive behaviour, and a lack of empathy for his fellow human beings - which you can probably understand, due to the reduction in his basic humanity through his cybernetic implants, his PTSD, and his being effectively a killer-for-hire for most of his life.

The thing is - he's put in some seriously shitty situations, not necessarily to do with the military side of things, but with his friends and - in particular - Morag, his girlfriend / lover / best arguer / hacker / whatever, because their relationship is pretty hard to pin down at any particular point.

It seems that for all his flaws, her biggest flaw is the inability to see past the initial hurt feeling of a perceived slight to actually understand what happened. The context of the scenario, the causality, the intentions of all involved, even the reality of what actually occurred means nothing to her in the face of the fact that she hurts, and she'll deal with that hurt her own way, thank you very much. Her own way generally tends to be lashing out at, ignoring, or otherwise demeaning Jakob.

So when he gets shot, I can deal with that. When he has his own arm removed (and is summarily beaten half to death with it), I can deal with that.

I find it harder to read about how he is essentially abandoned by her, thrown out of her life, discarded; and then as he moves on, weeks after their separation, and sleeps with someone else - when that event is brought to light, he is immediately the bad guy.

The worst thing is that when he's confronted at first with this stone wall - Morag rejecting him entirely, not happy to see him, not wanting to talk to him, preferring that he'd leave, not bothering to say goodbye when he does - that him actually LEAVING becomes one of the weapons she uses against him, to punish him for not actually cheating on her. A verbal dagger that he stabs him with repeatedly.

Like he was the bad guy for walking to the door, when she'd handed him his coat and told him to get out in the first place.

Unfortunately for Jakob he doesn't really have the means to actually communicate with her about the issue. His emotional intelligence is worse than stunted, and his on-the-job objectivity - usually rock-solid in a firefight - is thrown totally off-kilter just being near her. Which is kind of what love does, really.

It's not often that I feel like being the advocate of a main character, of actually standing up for him when he's being treated like a whipped mule - not by the enemy, not by people who dislike him, but by someone who actually claims to love him...sometimes.

Whatever patching-up occurs gets undone later when she hates him for something that he actually had no say or choice in. In fact it was something forcibly done to him that left him horribly traumatised. We won't go into that.

The thing that I am very impressed by is that despite how brutally unfair I feel the treatment of him is, despite how badly he handles it, despite how unpleasant many of the situations - social or tactical - the protagonists find themselves in...I still keep reading, because none of them are unbelievable. People are like that. Especially in high-stress situations. I can even understand why Morag acts the way she does; she came from a very hard life, and has had to change exceptionally quickly just to stay alive. That doesn't promote diplomacy, any more than a life in the SAS does.

Still. When Jakob's best friend Mudge - a war journalist who was embedded with the SAS for so long that he was almost one of them by the time their deployment was ended - tells Jakob that he spends too much time feeling sorry for himself...I can kind of understand why he might.

It's like Everybody Hates Chris, but Chris is a hard-boiled Scots special forces operator.

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