The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 5 review

I’m currently reviewing chapters of War of the Encyclopaedists by Gavin Kovite and Christopher Robinson. As a Dune novel it’s ambitious but clearly flawed in how the two authors insist on setting their novel 8,000 years prior to the events of the first Dune novel. I can’t really say what made them do this, other than they wanted a prequel unconnected to lamer successor Dune novels.

I finished War of the Encyclopaedists by now, so all of this is just review for me. I was pondering what the “war” is in the War of the Encyclopaedists. The novel makes it pretty clear who the Encyclopaedists are: Corderoy and Montauk. But what is the War? Obviously, the logical assumption is the Iraq War, but I think that’s a wrong. My next thought that perhaps the war is the interactions that play out in wikipedia articles, but I think that is, cleverly, a red herring. I think the War is the conflict between two polar opposite forces in the novel: Mani and the Encyclopaedists’ Wikipedia Entry.

But I’ll come back to that when I can, I just wanted to write the idea down as it came to me.

It also struck me how classical in structure the story is, perhaps all war stories are similar, but I think this is also intentional on the writers’ part. The book is sort of a combination of The Odyssey and the Illiad. Montauk’s journey is basically a combination of Odysseus and Achilles, but who is Corderoy? There’s a few chapters in The Odyssey known as the Telemachiad, which is the story about Telemachus (son of Odysseus) growing up in a hostile environment. Corderoy (the one who remains behind) is going through the Telemachiad.

Again, these are all just ideas I had after reading the whole book. I’ll try to keep them in mind and try and make an actual case for this.

Chapter 5 is another Montauk chapter, so obviously enough it’s about him doing military stuff. The part that interests me is that he sees Ant and Sodium Joh outside of the classroom where the rest of the platoon is.

The rest of the platoon was in here, bullshitting loudly over the Top 40 R&B/Hip-Hop station KUBE 93.3, which was probably why the musically snobbish Ant and Joh were cleaning their weapons outside.

Snobbishness is a trait that pops up a lot in Montauk himself. I think it’s a key element of how Montauk, and Corderoy, define their coolness. But it’s an isolating trait, Ant and Joh are two people driven from the group.

Montauk observes a character named Urrita.

He was predisposed to relative scrawniness, so his regimen of pills and supplements gave him the chiseled look of an Ambercrombie model, a look that Montauk both admired and thought kind of gay.

I think this is an example of the snobbishness I’m talking about. Urrita’s physique, while beautiful in a very masculine way, was not achieved in a “real” way, so I suspect that’s why Montauk kind of looks down on him. Why else premise this with how Urrita got his physique from pills and supplements? Part of my Mani Theory relies on noting that Montauk has that kind of macho persona that looks down on homosexuality as weak and effete, I suspect. It makes sense given the culture he is plugged in to.

Montauk just kind of sits and ostensibly cleans his rifle, but seems to be mostly absorbed it what was going on around him.

One thing I thought really interesting was the character Antoine Thomas.

He was a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, but especially of anime. To top it off, his speech was impeded by a lateral lisp. The ultimate 1980s caricature of a nerd. Except for one thing: he became infuriated rather than mortified when called out on his nerdiness.

I think this is actually really smart on the author’s part, and super subtle too. I almost missed it. What we have is a character of Urrita who despite being big and muscled, and admired by Montauk, is also considered kind of gay by Montauk. He admires Urrita despite the fact that he also thinks Urrita’s look is kind of gay, which is unacceptable in his outlook.

Then we have the character of Antoine Thomas, a character who has these traits that make him the ultimate manifestation of weakness (he’s a nerd from Revenge of the Nerds, he loves anime and sci-fi), but what’s noticeable about him is that though he obviously is SOMETHING, he gets enraged when called that. We have a guy who can’t accept who he is, even though he is super THAT THING.

I think this all ties into Montauk being unable to accept something about himself. Something like a box with a woman in it?

Bear in mind that at this point Montauk is obsessed with maintaining and creating the persona of being a leader. He can’t afford anything that could be perceived as a weakness say, for example, being a vocal anime fan. Or having a… lisp. Or respecting a muscled guy’s look too much.

Note that earlier in the book Montauk’s mom asks if he and Corderoy had a gay relationship.

Nothing wrong if you do, she stressed. They had a good laugh over that one.

Why are they laughing? At first I thought they were laughing at the suggestion that they might be gay, but now I suspect they’re laughing at the “nothing wrong” because that’s not true from their outlook.

Montauk then interferes with a disciplinary action being undertaken by a subordinate but is basically convinced that it’s necessary.

He followed Nguyen back into the classroom, scolding himself for being so soft, for acting like a camp counselor instead of a platoon leader.

There’s a lot of self-loathing in Montauk. Note that he can’t be soft.

Why can’t he be soft?

After all, survival in the field was a collective task, not an individual one. Get through as a group or get fucked as a group.

Again, pretty great writing on the writers part. Remember earlier? Ant and Sodium Joh were OUTSIDE the group. Why were they OUTSIDE? Because they were different. Why was Antoine Thomas being picked on? Because he was clearly an OUTSIDER. But the group is what it takes to survive and Montauk cannot be seen as an outsider no matter what.

So Mani’s back in the box, you see.

Mani actually is back at Montauk’s place, lazing around like a cat who happens to be super artsy. Montauk cajoles her into going to the Canterbury, a bar near the Encyclopad.

They get a table.

Montauk ordered them both Long Islands. He almost ordered three, as if Hal were back at the table, sitting next to Mani.

Yep just the three of them.

I’m still saying that point of the novel is again that Mani is this psychic ghost character that physically represents the bond that neither of the two Encyclopaedists can express.

There’s another quirk that appears a few times about Mani.

If Montauk had gone unshowered that long, he would have been rank as a Greyhound bathroom. Somehow, Mani only became more desirable. Her hair was lustrous, she moved in an invisible cloud of woman-smell.

I always thought “woman-smell” was an interesting phrase. Like we really have to drive home that Mani is a woman guys. Super sexy. WOMAN.

The real take away is about Mani.

She took a drink from her Long Island. “I’m confused, okay?”

“Confusion is bad.”

“No it’s good. I mean, it’s fuel.

Let’s just note that Mani is confused.

She’s also scared to face that confusion as she says later. Which seems to be a major trait of the three that comes back up again, avoidance.

Oh, also Mani knows Montauk doesn’t like her.

“You don’t like me,” Mani said.

“What?”

“You don’t have to pretend.”

In my Mani Ghost Theory this is all about how Montauk can’t accept Mani because of the aforementioned military culture he was both raised in and now is a participant in. It would make him soft, for example. He has to… PRETEND.

“Because Hal’s generous, I was taking advantage? I fucking loved him. I’m not the one who split in the middle of the night.”

“He was confused. He didn’t know what to do.”

There’s a lot there for me. First off, Mani calls Hal generous when we know from earlier chapters that Hal admires her and thinks she’s better than him because of HER generosity.

Also Mani says she fucking loved him and I kind of don’t buy it. Admittedly, she’s young, so maybe she believes it, but he’s seriously not yet been shown to be so charismatically alluring that a super woman like Mani would be enthralled by him.

Also Hal was confused.

Mani IS confused.

Just kind of things I’m grasping at that possibly link stuff. I might be reaching, but c’mon man. I’ve got like 44 chapters to go, I got to have something to amuse myself with.

“It was a mistake. And I’m not pretending.”

“What?”

“I’m not pretending to like you.”

So far in the novel we’ve had:

  • Hal stressed out about Mani moving in.
  • Hal was going to move in with Montauk.
  • Hal leaves Mani.
  • Hal leaves Montauk
  • Mani gets injured.
  • Mani moves in with Montauk

Like the wikipedia article there’s a back and forth with Mani that I think is what makes her like the wikipedia article for the two.

Mani ends the chapter stressing some stuff.

She would have written: Please let it be true. It has to be true.

Truth and reality again. Remember that if Hal and Mani’s think was REAL, it would survive a breakup. Montauk is no longer pretending to like Mani. I think the novel’s point is that so much of life just doesn’t feel real.

I’m starting to think that Mani’s MANIfestation is more about the fact that both Encyclopaedists are so freaked out by their bond that they needed a medium that is so super correct (in their minds) and so far from their fears. Like, I think she might not even represent a homosexual relationship, but just any level of connection with another man is so terrifying that neither Encyclopaedist can face it.

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