Michael Z. Williamson, The Weapon
reviewed by Danielle L. Parker
Publisher: Baen, 2005
Hardcover: $25.00 U.S.
Length: 487 pages
My first experience of filthy language as an emblem of masculinity came with my first post-college job. I was twenty years old, naïve but not stupid, and on my first day at work was shown into the office I would be sharing with an excessively good-looking, sophisticated, thirty-something man I’ll call B.
Little did I know at the time how my manager and new co-workers were laughing up their sleeves. B was a sexual gymnast who conducted all his affairs for the public benefit of the medium-sized IT department we both worked for. Shoe-horning a green-as-grass girl into a tiny office with the local killer Warren Beatty was meant to be the corporate equivalent of a live porn show. My colleagues were licking their lips to see the forthcoming action. Others had fallen, to the great entertainment of the on-lookers, and I was to be the latest.
Only it didn’t quite work out the way it was intended. B put the moves on within a few days, of course. I got the unwanted shoulder massage to help me relax; within a week, he coolly asked me to come home with him in front of several ear-flapping colleagues. But in spite of the fact that he was as good-looking a specimen of stud-muffin as I’ve seen before or since, I disliked him from the start.
One of the reasons was his habit of using filthy four-letter (mostly sexual) words. I asked him to refrain. He apologized profusely, but it instantly got worse. Every time (and even more frequently than before) that he swore, he would now turn around and ostentatiously apologize to the little lady. Dirty words were the sort of emblem of masculinity that the painted codpiece probably was to those old-time dandies. Swearing was like his public sexual liaisons. It meant he was a man.
I was reminded of B (something I try to avoid, even now) when I read Michael Z. Williamson’s new book, The Weapon. Kenneth Chinran, the protagonist of the story, is a self-described ass-kicking, hardcase killer, and like B, he’s got the foul language and the over-active codpiece to prove it. More than the first hundred pages of the novel are devoted just to Chinran’s military training, where we get the grunt-level view of how hard-ass, real-man Our Hero is. Are you over-loaded with testosterone? Do you have a small shaved head without much between the ears and hard-rock bulging biceps? Do foul language and sexual boasting turn you on? You’ll love this book.
There are no doubt hundreds of military themed novels that follow this well-worn track, many written, like this one, by former members of the armed services. Mostly they’re harmless fantasy-fulfillments: little boys pick up sticks to play war with, and I’m not naïve enough not to recognize that there are valid reasons — some of them essential to the survival of the species and of the nation — for the masculine gender’s greater interest in combat and conflict. So I’m not against war-themed books per se. The fantasies feed male archetypes, whether you consider them healthy or not, just the same way romances feed female emotional needs. For the most part, I say Vive la différence. There was a reason those shrewd cave-women picked the toughest looking hunks they could cajole — at least when a cave-bear was around.
But Williamson’s book gets a lot worse, and I totally lost patience with it. Chinran, after his one-hundred-plus pages of primping, gets his first assignment. He’s sent to intervene in a civil war on a planet that has (surprise!) Muslim fanatics of various stripes (Sunni and Shia) as well as some rightwing, fanatic Christian Baptists. Sounds familiar for some reason, doesn’t it? The protagonist describes them all (especially the Shiites) as dirt-stupid and cowardly. Terrorist tactics are the act of a coward; he wants all the Shiites to stand up and be shot like a man. Contempt oozes; squirts like Niagara, I should say.
Never once does the protagonist ask himself what he would do if he, like the Shiites he despises, were fighting against a superior and heavily armed enemy. It reminded me of how the British ranted against the rebellious colonials during our own war of independence. Those cowardly colonials kept firing from behind trees, while the British, as real soldiers should, wheeled in their bright red-uniformed ranks and marched in step toward the volleys that dropped them, without once gaining a sight of their raggedy enemy. Folks, let’s look at terrorist tactics as what they really are: a method of fighting from a position of weakness. Terror itself is nothing new in the history of conflict; witness the Mongols, who heaped the skulls of their victims into mountains to spread the news. I’m not equating our war of independence with a monster like Osama bin Laden by any means; I’m just saying we’d better find a hardheaded solution to a highly successful methodology of war.
Did I say things get a lot worse in this story already? We start heading downhill at the speed of an Olympic luge. Believing that fire can be fought with fire, Chinran castrates an unlucky Muslim as a warning. As another shining example, he shoots (starting with the kids, on the theory they’ll grow up to be bad eggs themselves) eight-seven civilians (men, women, and those aforementioned bad-seed children).
Then he and his team get sent to Earth, which is ruled by an incompetent and apparently crazily jingoistic United Nations. (I admit, I fought off the hysterical giggles at that thought). The UN launches an attack upon Chinran’s home world in order to free the natives from oppressors, and Chinran and his team, now infiltrated on Earth, cut loose with all the dirty terrorist tactics he seemed to despise in the unfortunate Shiite he castrated. They develop blister agents and chlorine gas. They manage to kill more than five million people in Minneapolis (an activity I greatly resented, since Minneapolis is a lovely city I called home for more than five years of my normally peripatetic life).
What redeems the character, a self-described weapon of mass destruction (notice the title of this story), from the hell he apparently believes his fellow terrorists (of the Muslim and Christian variety) are bound for? One simple difference, it seems: he feels guilt. He vomits after killing five million people. That makes it all right! That’s the wonderful difference! And then he goes out and does it again. Bye-bye, Chicago.
Once in a while I read a book that I can put down with only one simple question ringing in my head: what the heck was the publisher doing green-lighting this thing? Baen, you made possible a book that showcases what I would only call a war criminal. You should pay to take this one off the market; and by the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart for briskly rejecting my book.
The ludicrous happy ending sure doesn’t excuse it. Our Hero, now a single father, looks forward to a rosy future raising his sweet little daughter Chelsea. He’s a great dad; he even changes his own nappies. What stories he’ll be able to tell his grandchildren! Now son, do you want to hear about the time I castrated that cowardly Shiite? No? You love that one about Minneapolis the best? Well snuggle in, here it comes!
Shame on Baen and double shame on Mr. Williamson. Obviously, I don’t recommend this one. What do I recommend instead? Read Robert Kaplan’s newly released Imperial Grunts. It’s a wonderful story of our armed forces in real-life situations around the world, and I’m convinced every one of those soldiers would be deeply ashamed of Kenneth Chinran.
And now I’m going to take a run around the house. I have some excess emotions to work off. And if I meet anyone named Kenneth Chinran, I plan to kick in his over-sized codpiece with my steel-toed boot.
Copyright © 2006 by Danielle L. Parker