Sunday, 29 August 2010

New Model Army



“We don’t have Democracy, in the world of politics today; we have Oligarchy punctuated by occasional contests to determine who has the most effective control of the media”.

Hello all, been doing a bit of reading before bed in my preparations for moving. And I just realised that many of the books I've read about and "reviewed" are actually pretty old and thus either talked about enough already for everyone to be familiar with. A bit like how we all know that rose bud was his sled in Citizen Kane (still a good watch though).

So I figured why talk about some of thats still relatively new on the shelf of our local waterstones. So here we are New Model Army,(NMA) -not to be confused with the other New Model Army- by Adam Roberts who also wrote the excellent Yellow Blue Tibia and is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. NMA is one of those 20 minutes into the future sci-fi books so there are no rayguns or teleporters, though they do have superior wiki's and googlemaps and faster internet access.

The main plot of NMA is at first a some what straightforward military diary of the life of Tony Block (hes half Frisian) as he recounts to a mysterious Colonel whom we learn more about as things progress his last campaigns as part of the NMA known as Pantegral. An NMA is a new type army that organises itself Democratically as opposed to the traditional hierarchical or "Feudal" model current nation state armies employ. They get there name unsurprisingly from Cromwell's New Model Army which while nowhere near as egalitarian as these NMA’s, did introduce ideas such as voting for your officers and appointed a number of agitators to ensure the conditions and views of the men were expressed. Leveller Regiments flat out refused to take part in Cromwell's Irish Campaigns as its gaols conflicted with there commitment to liberty for example.

From the very first page its clear that Tony's views on the benefits of direct democracy will be extremely prevalent to the point of a lecture. For me this wedding the idea of Democracy so thoroughly to the narrative was both a strength and a weakness. It was and is refreshing to see a work outside of something found on the Marxism archive point out all the oligarchical tendencies modern parliaments and Senates are riddled with. But on the other hand the NMA characters are so self righteous about how they and they alone are true democrats that the fact they vote on everything alone justifies what ever they do (including maiming unarmed prisoners), this is especially irritating when you take into consideration that the NMA's are ultimately a band of a few thousand soldiers who quite simply can't hack it in civilian life. And essentially all the NMA are, there are no NMA style agri-communes or NMA municipalities, the only thing this global wave of true democracy is capable of doing is bring death and violence. ANd just because the NMA's are independent doesn't mean the people who hire them are either. For example Pantegrals most recent campaign was on behalf of the Scottish government in its bid to oust the British army over the formers refusal to acknowledge the new Kings legitimacy and desire for independence. But how do they know thats what the Scots really want since there was no referendum?

Though to be fair I suspect much of that was intentional. In Yellow Blue Tibia the only other Adam Roberts novel I've read, nearly every character who possesses strong beliefs about anything is made out to be a bit of fool when tripped up by a couple of ideological contradictions. And as the novel goes on there are more paragraphs and arguments made that shine a spotlight on the NMA's absurdities.

Anyway there was one other flaw that marred my enjoyment of it slightly. And thats the military side of it, the actually combat segments while not bad and possessed of professionalism don't quite gel. The NMA's are made out to be this big new threat that constantly defeat national armies wherever they clash. But the book only half explains while in a believable fashion. On one hand since there not a national army and as such have no desire to hold territory and are only concerned with bringing the UK gov to the negotiating table so it makes sense how there able to confound there opponents strategically. But tactically when the actually clash on the streets of Reading and elsewhere the NMA's wipe the floor with the sqauddies with every skirmish. Its explained that in future things like Wireless internet Wiki's and googlemaps have progressed to the point were they can be applied to military coordination effectively making each trooper a recon unit, and while this explains why groups are better at flanking manoeuvres and tactical withdrawals when necessary it doesn't explain while the Army (the guys who have pioneered these technologies) aren't capable of doing the same. Well they do explain it, its because there used to blindly following orders directly from there Generals which isn't even close to how urban warfare is waged. Then there is the NMA's unerring accuracy, we constantly see three or four NM soldiers casually pick of a dozen or so infantry, at first I thought they were using some kind of new hi tech private military rifles but nope they appear to use Ak's and other cheaper kit.

But these are rather minor gripes, another surprising point in the books favour is that Tony is Gay. and yet somehow isn't a flamboyant interior decorator or mincing sodomite. Which I personally found quite refreshing to see.

Once I'll refrain from getting into the specifics about the ending but thats owes a lot to the fact that the ending is extremely had to understand. When Tony was captured by the Americans they finally turn him round to a more cooperative state of mind. And develop some new type of AI called giant which they believe will do.... something, which they've planted in his head to use as a living bomb, they decide that it will be prudent to test first on a smaller NMA by the name of Schaferhund (shepherd dog)operating out of Alsace-Lorraine, so they do and activate Giant and it..... does something.

In conclusion I would highly recommend New Model Army warts and all (teehee). Especially if you're an Anarchist interested in seeing a truly democratic and egalitarian military force. Or a Celt who would like to indulge in a little nationalistic anti monarch wish fulfilment, what with the whole succession wars. Also futurists might be interested in the novels use of internet technologies to bring about global change.

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