Jeremy Robinson’s and Sean Ellis’s latest Jack Sigler novel “Prime” (2013) reveals the origins of the “Chess Team” (their super-secret Delta-of-Deltas best-of-the-best elite US army team, that’s hopefully fictional, or else I’m a dead man in the next 10 minutes 🙂) that rattles along in the other novels in the same series. Here, though, the goodies-vs-superbaddies story plays out against the backdrop of the Voynich Manuscript’s secrets, the origins of the Black Plague, and indeed the ultimate origins of Life on Earth. But with lots of guns.
Thankfully, Robinson gets one over on most of his Voynich fiction competition by finding ways of not inserting too many cut-and-pasted slabs of cod Wikipedia-esque history into his brisk narrative: while another near-first is that the manuscript stays centre-stage throughout the whole book, which is also a nice change from what has become the norm.
Yet… despite all the knowingly-contemporary ironic macho posturing and ultra-weaponry fetishism of the genre, the language of “Prime” used still feels to me like it has been written for 17- or 18-year-olds. You know: relentlessly soul-less super-soldier hyper-gun pr0n, coupled with the run-at-the-camera poisoned-sugar rush of 3d zombie films and the moral one-dimensionality of young adult fiction. And as for the crypto girl’s inner maths-geek monologues… well, best not get me started on something that badly lame.
“Prime” was certainly a quick read, and perhaps if I had previously trawled through the rest of the Chess Team series, I might just have viewed many of the sequences in a different, possibly more nuanced light. But in the end, I’m pretty sure that it is what it is: a Voynich novel that treats the manuscript with reasonable respect (mostly), yet fetishizes and objectifies just about everything else it touches. And with lots of guns.
Basically, if your secret inner you is an 18-year-old kid who thinks that big guns and heroes that are described as looking like “Hugh Jackman[‘s]… film portrayal of the comic book superhero Wolverine” (p.26) are all like totally kewl, while also being a tiny bit of a cipher mystery history geek, then maybe this is the hot book of the year for you. But for the rest of us… maybe not.