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Literature / Remote Man

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Remote Man is an Australian young adult novel by Elizabeth Honey. The main character is Melbourne-born teenager Ned Spinner, a reptile-enthusiast and computer geek, whose mother, an arboriculturist named Janet, suffers a severe mental breakdown in the early chapters. Ned is sent to stay with his aunt and uncle in Wakwak, Northern Territory while she recovers. While there, he makes fast friends with his cousin Kate, who he has previously kept in e-mail contact with. With permission from the local indigenous kids, she shows him a rare Oenpelli Python. A few days later, Ned naively mentions the python to an unpleasant American tourist (nicknamed The Cowboy) at his uncle's gallery.


After Ned returns to Melbourne, he learns that Janet has been invited to stay with the mother of one of her colleagues in Concord, Massachusetts. Knowing that this will be good for her, Ned agrees to go with her. Shortly after their arrival, Ned receives an angry e-mail from Kate, revealing that the python hasn't been seen since the day they were at the gallery.

Ned makes friends with a boy from the next town, nicknamed Rocky, and joins him in searching for a brown bear that's supposedly been sighted in the woods. Eventually, they find it, along with two of her cubs. But when Rocky makes a deal with a wildlife photographer, it gets the mother killed and the cubs captured. When Ned and Rocky attempt to track down the poachers, it leads them to Frank Laana, a retired Hollywood stunt driver running a international smuggling ring - who they subsequently identify as The Cowboy.


Kate investigates Ned's other leads (obtained in an overheard conversation revealing the full scope of the smuggling ring), making two further international contacts in the process: Cleverton, a teen genius from Kingston, Jamaica; and Yvette, a French fashion expert and amateur historian from the Loire Valley. These five teenagers band together to expose Laana and put an end to his criminal activities, despite their communication being limited to e-mail and underground (or underwater) chatrooms (Note that the book predates Myspace and Facebook by several years).


Remote Man contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: The online equivalent, a disused chatroom belonging to a kelp harvesting company (who are implied to not even know how it works), where Ned and his friends plan their attack.
  • The Alleged Car: After arriving in Concord, Janet buys a 1987 Chevy Cavalier sedan. Martha and Janet nickname it the Hunk'o'junk, and with good reason: it's only barely roadworthy, incredibly noisy and in such bad condition that the exhaust falls off, albeit at the best possible moment.
  • Angrish: Kate never pays much attention to spelling, capitalisation, punctuation, etc in her e-mails and chat messages, but her annoyed rant about Toxic is especially unreadable.
    Kuza: There's a F*R**fwit FfL***ING F**Z**TFACe TOXIC who snoops me out and I can;'t say a thing in chat rooms or anYwhere everytime I open my MuTH there's bloody TOXIC that F*Y*T*KINg viper (sorry nEd I know theyre lovely) but I harpte his FL*S*King guts. He's looking for meEVerywgere!! He's giving me the totaly crfeeps Wat do i DO?
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Rocky's sister Abigail comes across as this at first. But her expertise with a video camera proves useful, and she clearly respects him by the end when she finds out what he and Ned have been up to.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Averted. The bears are never a threat to anyone, though the potential danger is pointed out by several of the adults.
  • Big Bad: Frank Laana, the ringleader of the smuggling operation.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Yvette's last message to Ned and Rocky before their plan to trap Laana comes to fruition translates to "May the force be with you!"
  • Chekhov's Gun: After Janet buys The Alleged Car, Ned comments on what appears to be a crack in the exhaust pipe. This comes in handy when the pipe in question falls off during the climactic car chase.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Laana first appears in Chapter 6 as an unnamed tourist, revealing himself as the Big Bad at about the halfway mark.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Abigail and her friends' amateur film-making is mentioned shortly after we meet her. It comes up later when she gets Laana meeting two of the poachers for coffee on video.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Some of Kate's chat messages, though she never actually spells it properly.
  • Collector of the Strange: The crazy woman Ned and Rocky meet in New York who has dozens and dozens of perfectly-cleaned and preserved animal skeletons, who claims that she's preserving them for generations to come because they'll most likely be extinct by then.
  • Contrived Coincidence: What's the chance that Kate, Ned and Rocky would meet just the right people online to help them? Though, to be fair, Kate had to go through several Jamaican chatrooms before coming across Ja and presumably did the same in French chatrooms between chapters before finding Yvette.
    • And that Ned would just happen to come across a chatroom that nobody was using and that he could guess the password to?
    • The biggest, though, may be Ned being in the same gallery Laana visited on the same day, only weeks before arriving in the same town where his son is incarcerated and where the bears were taken.
  • Culture Clash: Janet and Ned go shopping and freak out the staff when they reveal that they don't have a car.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Revenge With A Vengeance.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Ned comes up with his plan while browsing in a dime store. He comes across a pincushion with a music box inside, playing "The Entertainer". It triggers a memory of watching The Sting with his father, and gives him the idea to create a fake person with a fabricated company website to bait Laana into a trap.
  • Evil Poacher: Frank Laana and everyone who works for him.
  • Fatal Method Acting: In-universe. Frank Laana's brother Jay was killed in a botched stunt on their last movie together.
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Free-Range Children / Parental Obliviousness: Played with. Ned and Rocky are on the frontline of the plan to take down Laana for most of the book, doing a lot of unsupervised investigating in the woods, around Concord and Acton, and in the middle of Manhattan, with Janet, Martha and Rocky's parents being none-the-wiser. On the other hand, they can't do everything themselves, and are forced to rely on Janet to chaperone them in New York (under the belief that they're in it for the Museum of Natural History's dinosaur exhibit - which they are, at least partly) and on the stakeout at the Donut Shack towards the end. It's only when Ned escalates the situation by taking the iguana from Laana's car before he can drive off that she gets a hint of what he's been up to.
    • Kate's trip to Concord towards the end is worth a mention, though it's made clear that she'll be in a mountain of trouble when she gets home, not least for using Laana's credit card number.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Janet smashes the TV with a frying pan during an argument with Ned in the first chapter. The first sign we get of her impending breakdown.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: A text example: Ned gets an email from a guy who worked for Laana, telling him about a time when Laana packed some rare birds into tubes and sedated them prior to transporting them. Unfortunately, the drugs wore off and the birds tore themselves to pieces. Thankfully, we don't get details.
  • Green Aesop: With regard to wildlife exploitation and deforestation. It's not particularly anvilicious.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X": Ned gets this reaction when he tells his friend's friends that his internet handle is "Herpman" - it's meant to be short for Herpetology, but this isn't what they connect it with. Ned changes it later in the chapter.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A missing python -> international animal smuggling.
  • Multinational Team: An Australian guy, an Australian girl, an American guy, a French girl and a Jamaican guy.
  • One Steve Limit: Possibly averted. The photographer working for Laana is named Hank, the same as Laana's brother and former partner in their film company, but it seems the two are not the same person.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Ned and Janet stay with Martha while in America. Sadly, the date of their arrival gets mixed up, so Martha's gone for the weekend when they get there and they end up having to camp on her lawn for a couple of days.
  • The Stinger: On the last page, Kate e-mails Ned to tell him the python is back on the rock - raising the question of whether it was stolen to begin with.
  • Stylistic Suck / Take Our Word for It: The acting in Laana's last film Revenge With A Vengeance is described as being worse than cardboard cutouts, the film's only saving grace being the stunt work in the climactic scene.
  • Three Plus Two: Ned, Kate and Rocky are the main characters for the first half of the book. Kate makes contact with Cleverton at around the halfway mark and Yvette a few chapters later.
  • Troll: Kate/Kuza has several encounters with a sleazy cyber-stalker going by the name Toxic. He never manages to locate her in The Kelp Room, thankfully.
  • Working the Same Case: Kate's suspect for the python's disappearance turns out to be behind the bears' capture.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math / Critical Research Failure: Thankgiving is featured about three fifths of the way through the book, yet the climax takes place on November 30th, with several weeks of planning in between.