It has been some months since this blog's inaugural post. I'm lazy.
The land of mysticism and magic where I live has just come through a heatwave, and finding myself in the local library I picked up Matthew Reilly's Ice Station, hoping that a book set in Antarctica would help make me feel cooler.
For those of you who don't know (though that should be relatively few) Matthew Reilly is a popular author specializing in action adventure books. I own four of his books, a trilogy in which a team of characters must race around the world and recover lost treasures to prevent the Apocalypse, and a young adult novel set in the near future amidst the world of hover-car racing. Ice Station is the first in Reilly's most popular series featuring Lieutenant Shane Schofield, A.K.A Scarecrow, a career soldier who charges around shooting bad guys, blowing things up and saving the day in general. In this novel, Scarecrow and his unit of elite soldiers must secure Wilkes Ice Station, an Antarctic research centre where an alien spacecraft (OMG!) has been discovered in the ice.
Thankfully, (spoilers) the vessel turns out to be man-made, but plenty of completely implausible things still happen in this novel. Though they set in the real world, Reilly's novels are basically paper and ink versions of Hollywood action flicks on steroids. Ice Station features a fifty-page gun battle, a hovercraft chase across the Antarctic plains and an explosion every ten pages or so. Reilly stretches reality to breaking point with characters who spend hours swimming around the Antarctic ocean and wandering across icebergs without suffering any cold-related damage, mutant elephant seals and a trained fur seal named Wendy who swims through a pod of killer whales to save people. Yeah.
As previously mentioned the hero of the story is Scarecrow, the indestructible man. Throughout the non-stop adventure Scarecrow survives a gun-battle that leaves most of the combatants dead, falling into a pool filled with killer whales, falling under a speeding hovercraft, falling off a 150-foot ice cliff, single combat with a another trained soldier while his hands are cuffed, being dangled upside-down as killer whale bait with his hands still cuffed, an attack by a mutant elephant seal and a nuclear explosion. Very few of the other characters are so lucky, with about 90% of them getting shot, stabbed, eaten or vaporized. Except of course for the 12 year-old girl, who survives everything.
Reilly's writing is simple and straightforward, with no metaphors and only brief, practical descriptions of the environment. It is good enough to make you care about the characters - and bad enough to stop you caring after one too many of them get killed off. Reilly tends to explain things about his characters in exposition rather than through their actions or words, and irritatingly over-uses italics. In some action sequences nearly every verb is stressed, as is all the dialogue. At best its distracting, at worst its ridiculous. He also tends to re-use ideas. In every one of his action novels there is at least one, but more likely two or three, traitors secretly working for the bad guys. The main antagonist is almost always a figure from the hero's past, and one of the scenes in Ice Station is almost exactly the same as one in Five Greatest Warriors.
But at the end of the day, how much does this matter? It irks me, a writing snob, but I still read and enjoy his books and will read Ice Station's sequel, Scarecrow. Furthermore, something Reilly himself commented on in the afterword, men who don't read will often read his books, and possibly try other authors afterwards. Getting more people into reading is more important overall that writing really good books. And, to be honest, the intense, over-the-top action is really fun to read.