The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 6 review

I’m currently reviewing chapters of War of the Encyclopaedists by Gavin Kovite and Christopher Robinson. As a Dune novel it’s pretty awful. Like, they made the one cardinal sin of any Dune novel: they omitted Duncan Idaho.


I’m starting to think that this book is about homosexuality so much as it’s about the fear of being perceived as homosexual. This fear robs the Encyclopaedists of all means of expressing affection except through oblique channels (like your mom jokes) and eventually wikipedia. Expressing your affection through the language of academia is acceptable because academia has always been kind of associated with being a masculine thing. The world of ideas and intellectualism. However, I think that Mani is the opposite, she represents the conduit that is in the real world, that’s tangible, that’s physical. Like, I think the Encyclopaedists might not even have a romantic intent, but they’re so afraid of any emotional bond that the only medium that they can use to express that is the medium of the only thing it’s acceptable to have emotions about: a woman. 

Chapter 6 is a short one and also a Montauk chapter. I’m noticing in his recent chapters there’s this dichotomy between two worlds (civilian and military) that Montauk navigates, and both worlds are alien to the other.

Montauk wants to prepare for the platoon’s deployment.

“I was thinking about that, sir,” Montauk said. “Here we are walking around the woods holding compasses. Maybe it would be more useful to do some kind of mountaed nav course. Even head up north and practice driving in the city.”

In my mind this mirrors Corderoy and the Cop, only Montauk, because he is within THE MAN, doesn’t have as antagonistic a relationship. Still, a perfectly logical suggestion (CAN I TAKE OFF MY COAT?) is shot down (NO):

… it’s not in the training schedule, and we’re leaving in eighteen days. We’ll work with what we have and figure out the rest over there.

Nope, Montauk, you can’t take off your coat. The world resists making sense instead favoring chaos and bureaucratic madness.

Montauk follows up on some intelligence about a car bomb. This leads him to thinking about the term killed in action. He imagines soldiers dead. He thinks of Sodium Joh and Ant.

The two outsiders from the previous chapter are dead in his imagination. Why? Because they’re not part of the group. They’re different.

Montauk then travels to Civilian World and gets a hipster bicycle. He names it Hermione.

(after Hermes, the speediest Greek god, not after the Harry Potter character)

The Harry Potter reference is of course part of Montauk’s snobbishness, I suspect, since why name your bike something that will always make people think of the think you don’t want? Because you want to be better than them, perhaps.

The funny thing is that he names his M4 carbine Molly Millions, which is a William Gibson reference. So William Gibson references are ok, but JK Rawlings is not ok. I suspect it’s kind of a Young Adult fiction isn’t a real art to Montauk.

Also William Gibson is a sci-fi writer. Funny how Antoine Thomas is super into sci-fi.

Then follows a list of places Montauk passes on his way from a co-op on Madison to the Encyclopad. This is not important but I still want to make a correction.

… he zipped past storefronts on either side: 22 Doors, the tapas bar, the little vegan grocery, the barbershop with the spinning candy-cane pole where the dude kept Playboys in the stack of magazines and tried to talk to you about NASCAR as he cut your hair. The Hopvine, a teahouse, and two indie coffee joints.

I think the correct order (in 2004) is:

  • Teahouse
  • 22 Doors
  • Barbershop
  • Indie coffee joint
  • Indie coffee joint
  • Hopvine

I lived there around that time.

I’m not saying it’s important but you will note that Montauk is traveling from Planet Military to Civilian World, maybe the incorrect order is about how Civilian World doesn’t make sense. Or maybe it was just a list, not mean to convey order.

A few of his housemates (who, by the way, aren’t Encyclopaedists despite the fact that the house is The Encyclopad?) are watching an old kung fu movie. This is kind of noticeable on my second read through in that it’s kind of a missing detail. The last time Montauk walked in on some roommates he knew what game they were playing (Halo) AND what level they were on. This is from a guy who looks down on video games.

But maybe he’s too distracted by Mani.

I think Mani can be seen as kind of an avatar of Yoda’s Crude Matter and part of that is that she’s often associated with a smell. Bodies smell, souls are odorless.

“Goddamn, that smells good. What is it about bacon?” he asked.

Then Montauk reveals he knows where he’s going, but he can’t reveal it. It doesn’t make sense that he can’t reveal it, but Mani is from Civilian World, so the rules of Planet Military don’t make sense to her.

Can I take off the coat? No.

“No, I’m serious, it’s classified. It’s no big deal. I mean it’s interesting, but it’s not shocking or anything. It’s a place in Iraq, and we’ll basically be doing security stuff, which we already knew.”

“Why’s it classified then?”

Montauk has an urge to make out with her then hug her like an adult. An adult hugging session.

Mani considers Montauk.

Even scarrier was that he didn’t seem worried at all. At worst, he was a dead man walking. At best, a lost boy. Was he right not to worry? It was all so confusing.

Remember when Hal was in this book? He was confused too. Mani may have absorbed some Corderoy-an traits between chapters.

Also Montauk is, at best, a lost boy. That reminds me of that thing I mentioned earlier about characters being unable to make the jump to adulthood. It’s like the millennials are trapped in a limbo between childhood and adulthood.

Montauk hugs and kisses her as if he were his girlfriend. Then he could kiss her.

He could step forward and kiss her. One swift, soft motion. Right now.

But, c’mon guys, we all know what Montauk thinks about “soft” things. So the moment passes and there’s no kissing or adult hugs.

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