THE CLONE REPUBLIC: a tedious, racist, sexist crime against literature

Steven L. Kent, The Clone Republic. Titan Books, 2013. First UK publication. Originally published 2006, by Ace Books.

Freeman was a “black man.” Understand that since the United States brought the world together in a single “unified authority,” racial terms like “African,” “Oriental,” and “Caucasian” had become meaningless. Under the Unified Authority, the Earth became the political center of the galaxy. Most commerce, manufacturing, and farming were done in the territories, and the territories were fully integrated. I heard rumors about certain races refusing to marry outside of their own; but for the most part, we had become a one-race nation. So when Ray Freeman, whose skin was the color of coffee without a trace of cream, stepped out of his ship, it was like the return of an extinct species.

[Kent, 2013, 38]

I should have stopped there.

The pull-quote on The Clone Republic‘s jacket is from the SFRevu. That should, perhaps, have served as a warning. But it suggested that “Fans of Jack Campbell should find plenty here to enjoy.”*

I can tell you three things about the work of Jack Campbell/John Hemry. It doesn’t explicitly, gratuitously, dismiss the existence of people who aren’t White pseudo-USians, although Campbell’s cultural koines veer close to America In Space. It has its problems with portraying women as sexual beings, but it grants them the same range of professional competence as men, in and outside the military. And although he can be structurally repetitive from book to book, Campbell’s a writer who knows how to create tension and maintain pacing within the confines of that structure. As undemanding light entertainment, Campbell is pretty good. I like Campbell’s work. For what it is, I like it quite a lot.

And, importantly, he doesn’t disappear me/people like me. He doesn’t disappear competent women.

But we were speaking of The Clone Republic. Which is pretty far from Jack Campbell. Kent’s most sordid crime against literature is tedium. There is no tension to be found in his utterly unremarkable prose – to call it turgid would be to grant it an undeserved accolade: moribund is by far the more appropriate word – no sense, in the movement from incident to incident, that here is a writer with any idea how to control pacing, develop character, or create the shape and outline of a coherent novel. There is no crescendo, no emotional climax, no real resolution.

But aside from this most ignoble of literary crimes, Kent has trespassed even further. For, you see, aside from the awful neo-colonialist assumptions and racism encoded into that quoted paragraph, misogyny is the backbone of Kent’s universe. His protagonist exists in an exclusively masculine military world. There are no female naval officers. No female spacers. No female marines. No female support staff. No female technical analysts. There are only two named women within the world of the novel, and those women enter the stage only to have sex with Kent’s protagonist and his protagonist’s best friend while the aforesaid pair are on leave in Hawaii.

I’m pretty fucking tired of novels where women don’t exist, or exist only instrumentally vis-à-vis male protagonists. It tells me the author isn’t interested in talking to me. It tells me the author doesn’t think I’m worth considering as part of the audience. My tolerance for such books can, no doubt, get lower. But it’s already pretty bloody low.

I read books full of Men doing Important Things with No Women Doing Anything Of Note, and I feel soiled. I feel bloody well defiled. That’s putting it strong, but you know something? I’d rather visible virulent laughable misogyny than this… empty silence.

The racism, though. That’s right there up front.

*cue film trailer music*

In A TIME. When THERE ARE NO BROWN PEOPLE. A CLONE SHALL COME. And lo, he shall be PALE BEIGE. And he will feel REALLY GOOD ABOUT HIMSELF WHILE KILLING PEOPLE. And there will be no language but ENGLISH. And no POWER but WASHINGTON DC. And the LAW shall be the LAW of Plato’s Republic

*/film trailer music*

Tedious, racist, sexist. Moribund. Intellectually and emotionally barren – barren as a burnt heath ploughed with salt. To call it prosaic would be flattery. I did not like this book. I do not find anything in it worth recommending.

I condemn it. I condemn it. I condemn it. And had I the power, would banish it to the outer darkness, to utter oblivion and damnatio ad memoriae.

*The pull-quote, it transpires, is actually from a review of the seventh book in the series.

Books in brief: Hambly, Good Man Friday; Locke, Up Against It; Kent, The Clone Republic; and Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830-1980

Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday. Severn House, 2013.

Another excellent installment in the Benjamin Janvier series. If you have not yet read the Benjamin Janvier mysteries, do so. They are seven different kinds of brilliant.

M.J. Locke, Up Against It. Tor, 2011. Copy courtesy of Tor.com.

READ THIS BOOK. Seriously. This is one of the best works of “hard” science fiction I’ve read. It’s fully as good as anything else in the field – better than most, with well-developed, fully rounded characters, interestingly plausible science, and a smashing thriller plot. What I don’t understand is why it’s flown under the radar. It seems like a Terrible Oversight.

So go read it. Seriously. Probably you will like it, if you like Stross’s less futureshocky SF, or Chris Moriarty, or, I think, Bear’s Dust. Near-future near-space asteroid SF!

Steven L. Kent, The Clone Republic. Titan Books, 2013. (First published 2006.) Copy courtesy of Titan Books.

Oy. This book. This book is so bad. And so blind to its clueless white-guy misogyny and thoughtless colonialism. And tedious! I am composing a review-rant. It may take some time, for I read this in search of light entertainment – the pull-quote-blurb compares it favourably to Jack Campbell – and instead come away feeling soiled and dehumanised.

Do not recommend.

Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. Virago, 1987.

Like any work of history that carries its narrative up to within a decade of its writing, its latter chapters and conclusion are doomed to age poorly. But the greater proportion of this book is a lucid, solid – at times brilliant – social history of women and madness in English culture.

Well recommended.