The War of the Encyclopaedists: A Chapter 20 review #WarOfTheEncyclopaedists

I’m currently reviewing chapters of War of the Encyclopaedists by Gavin Kovite and Christopher Robinson. As a Dune novel it’s pretty awful. This is pretty great reading material if you want to start writing fantasy novels. I feel like I’m learning a lot about the craft of writing just by obsessively pouring over these chapters.

Look forward to my own upcoming novel tentatively titled Jack Bladesman and the Infinity Dragon.

Chapter 20 is a Montauk chapter set in Baghdad, which is sort of like Dune. Sort of.

“Faggot,” Mohammed Faisal muttered in English after the shop door jingled shut behind him.

Starting strong. We’re 20 chapters in and a new viewpoint character is introduced. I don’t know if that’s exceptional or not, but it does make me wonder if it’s implied that there are more than two Encyclopaedists. So now we have Montauk, Corderoy, Mani, Tricia, and Mohammed.

The line of cars started a full block and a half from the checkpoint. The drivers milled around, close enough to keep an eye on their vehicles but far enough to maybe survive the blast if one of the cars should for any reason explode.

I didn’t notice till this time around, but is there a lot of traffic in to the Green Zone? I guess that’s where one would expect to find the highest concentration of money.

Mohammed smiled defiantly, then hopped and slung the case up to his head and continued on, balancing the coffee on his skull like a Babylonian serving girl.

This stood out to me because I wonder if this is an idiom native to Baghdad or one made up by the authors. I don’t know anything about Babylonian serving girls. I know that there’s a lot of artwork depicting Korean women balancing stuff on their head, but even then I wouldn’t use the term Korean serving women. Like, Mohammed is like a Dickensian street urchin, right? So does he know about Babylon?

“Faggot,” he muttered in English.

Whoa, whoa, what is this? Shane Black’s Monster Squad? If you didn’t get that joke, it was pretty funny. Trust me.

Mohammed meets Lieutenant Watts who introduces him as Monkey to Montauk.

“That’s Monkey,” he said. “He’s one of the checkpoint kids. Gets you coffees and shwarmas and shit.”

Monkey runs off after Watts pays him for a pack of iced coffees.

“Faggot,” he said once he was out of earshot.

I find it really plausible that there exists a street urchin running around cursing out people in a foreign language. But one has to wonder if Monkey is real…

Viewpoint then switches to Montauk who is getting updated on how things work on his new assignment.

Lieutenant Watt tells him a bombing that happened a few weeks prior.

The LT treated Montauk and Byrd to the rundown on the bombing: a silver Kia had driven slowly up to the command post, where two soldiers stopped it to check the driver’s ID and search for contraband or weapons. As one of the soldiers approached, a stack of artillery shells wired together in the trunk detonated, cratering the ground and blowing him right into the wall of the CP.

I have to say that Montauk’s new job combines the worst of customer service and bombings.

They go to check out a situation with a lady freaking out. An Iraqi waves them over.

“That’s Aladdin,” said Watts. “He’s maybe our best translator, or at least I like him best. I worry about him sometimes, though. It’s getting more dangerous for these guys.”

Aladdin and Monkey, huh?

Aladdin was dressed nicer than the Average Alis in line to enter the checkpoint; they seemed to prefer loose trousers and sandals. He looked more like the young Roman guys Montauk and Corderoy had met in Trastevere: cheapo stonewashed “designer” jeans with a fitted polo, slin-on shoes, and Gucci-type shades.

I suspect there’s something significant in Aladdin triggering memories of Montauk and Corderoy’s Italian Vacation.

“How’s it going?” Montauk said. Aladdin shook his hand in the exact sort of low slap-shake Corderoy would use. Montauk liked him immediately.

Ha, he likes him because he reminds him of Corderoy. Can we also observe the Montauk has now exceeded Corderoy for number of people he likes in his new city? Seriously, Corderoy excels at being misanthropic.

The lady forgot her ID and wants in. Watts asks Montauk what he should do. Montauk suggests letting her in and Watts challenges that.

“Hooah, sir, that would be my call.” Montauk had already changed his mind, but that hooah, Army slang for anything and everything except no, had the stamp of finality. Being indecisive was Original Sin in the officer corps, for good reason.

I wonder if this is the equivalent of Corderoy explaining why he’s in graduate school. Montauk seems better adjusted of the two for their new lives.

Montauk and Aladdin bond over chewing tobacco, I think.

“Tell me about it. It’s like Mad Max out here.”

“Mel Gibson,” Aladdin said.

“You like Mel Gibson?”

“No, sih. I like Bruce Willis. Die Hard. Five Element.”

“Oh yeah?”

“You look like young Bruce Willis,” Aladdin said. “When your hair falls out, then you look just like him.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Montauk said.

“No one can tell the difference then. And you will take me to fancy Hollywood parties. Lots of girls.”

Honestly, this exchange between Aladdin and Montauk feels more like what Corderoy and Montauk exchanges should be like.

Montauk eventually leaves for food.

The entrance to the dining facility was inlaid with a tiled picture of George H. W. Bush surrounded by an American flag. The confusion of it all struck Montauk as he stepped on Bush’s nose. Nobody had bothered changing the flooring because the insult of walking on your enemy’s face was lost in translation.

The importance of this was the end of the paragraph:

Montauk thought of Corderoy.

I suspect symbolism is Corderoy’s domain. Montauk’s been thinking a lot of Corderoy this chapter.

Montauk continues thinking, which I Guess shows he’s a pretty contemplative guy, but perhaps not so self-destructively so as Corderoy.

He wondered if the Iraqis thought they were fools for tramping over mosaics of their own president and flag, while missing the freedom that the Americans were trying to give them.

That’s what it felt like, walking on that mosaic: an exercise of freedom. Though Montauk didn’t know if he meant freedom with a hipster wink or some other, earlier kind of freedom. The freedom to burn your own flag.

Then that night Montauk dreams of Mani and Corderoy.



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