by Andy Remic
Review by John Berlyne
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1841491470
Date: 11 August 2003 List Price £5.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
This debut thriller from young British writer Andy Remic is an unlikely choice for Orbit, given (and I hope they'll forgive me for saying this) that this is a publisher that tends to "play it safe" in terms of its genre output. Over recent years, Orbit has tended to stay comfortably within the confines of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and in doing so they have produced an impressive catalogue of both imported and home grown works. Additionally, Orbit have steadily and successfully worked on the profiles of their stable, keeping well established writers (such as Robert Jordan, Tad Williams and Iain M. Banks) at the top of the tree; building up the reputations of others (Ken Macleod, Martin Scott, Sean Russell); and launching the careers of authors whose work has impressed readers and commentators alike (Steve Cockayne, K. J Parker). No accident then that last year's Arthur C. Clarke shortlist had two Orbit titles on it -- David Brin's Kil'n People and The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon -- both excellent novels
For all their expertise in genre fiction then, Spiral seems something of an anomaly for Orbit. In an unspecified near future, a massive and covert organization is responsible for the global counter-terrorism operation. Spiral, it seems, are the boys you're messing with when you hijack a plane or set off a car-bomb. They're they guys who'll hunt you down and sort you out. The organization of this enterprise is complex, split into cells and spanning continents. Spiral's resources are vast and its operatives seriously hard. One such operative, Carter, is in semi-retirement when he is called upon by his fixer to perform what ought to be a standard protection mission. However, as every thriller reader knows, there's no such thing as a "standard" mission, and sure enough, it isn't too long before Carter finds himself up to his neck in trouble. Make that "T"rouble -- for this particular can of worms involves serious corruption within Spiral itself. There are those intent on destroying Spiral from within and their motives are -- in the traditions of all the best Bond villains -- nothing short of world domination. Carter, as both pursued and pursuer, must get the heart of the problem.
Remic's set up is fairly standard thriller stuff -- the SF elements are infrequently touched upon, and serve as little more than set dressing to the action. There are some hi-tech gadgets involved, a little near-future history, super-powerful computer chips (control over which is the central motivation for the bad guys). In the main though, Spiral is about little more than our man Carter romping about in helicopters and shooting people - or having people shoot at him. I don't think I've ever read a book with so many violent deaths per chapter! The incessant violence in the novel is relentless and after the first hundred or so killings it becomes clear that Spiral is a novel of action rather than substance. The specific functions of the Spiral organization are left (deliberately?) vague by Remic, and I found this neglect resulted in me simply sitting back and enjoying the explosions rather than getting involved too much with the plot. On this premise, Spiral is certainly chock full of action, but with such a high turnover of characters, it is a novel largely populated by two-dimensional folk. We meet lots of people in Remic's book, but generally they get blown up before we learn much about them. As a first novel, I'd say Spiral is probably worth a look. It'll make ideal summer reading if you're looking for something filmic and mindless to read by the pool and it makes a refreshing change from the usual Tom Clancy fodder that you'll find on sale at the airport. Essentially though, Spiral has little to differentiate it from any other generic action thriller -- you can easily envision a movie version of Carter being played by Bruce Willis or Stallone or whichever Action Man's in vogue at the time. If you're looking for the real cutting edge of British near future thrillers take a look at the recent work of Paul McAuley.