Sunday, June 29, 2014

Joseph D'Lacey's THE BOOK OF THE CROWMAN

I really enjoyed last year's Black Feathers, Joseph D'Lacey's first half of the saga of Gordon Black (what is it with Angry Robot Books and people named Black and blackbirds these days, by the way? It's impossible not to think of Gordon and Miriam Black as siblings of some twisted and horrible kind), but I gotta admit, this second half, The Book of the Crowman, was kind of a slog, you guys.

And that makes me really sad. Even as it suggests rather strongly (ok, more like shouts, for reasons I'll get to below) that in appreciating the subtlety, ambiguity and lack of preachiness in the first volume, I was appreciating Black Feathers all wrong. Either that or I was being set up in the first volume for the rhetorical bludgeoning I got in the second. I think I'd almost rather have been appreciating it all wrong.

For The Book of the Crowman takes all of the things I liked best about Black Feathers and throws them onto the compost heap. Gordon is now explicitly a hippie Christ figure (although yes, he kills a lot more people than Jeebus ever did) (well except all the ones that Jeebus has indirectly killed over the centuries) (but maybe not, 'cause dude kills a lot of people with his little lock knife). Megan becomes less of a Lemmiwinks but still manages to be boring. And the chilling villains of the first volume, Skelton and Pike, stop feeling quite so much like Neil Gaiman/BtVS villains (they totally reminded me of The Gentlemen in Black Feathers) and more like Satan and Saddam Hussein in South Park.

What kept me going was the writing itself, the one quality that truly does carry over from the prior volume. D'Lacey really lets himself rock out this time around, with great escape sequences, action scenes, whole set-piece battles (longbowmen versus tanks, y'all. S'all I'm saying), and also some more of those powerful, quietly emotional scenes that stay with you long after the last page of the book is read.

Ultimately, though, all of that beauty and excitement wound up not being enough when weighed against the feeling of being preached at. It's an open question for me whether it's people with whom one agrees (as is pretty much the case here) or people with whom one disagrees who are more annoying when they just won't shut up about their cause, but the experience of reading this book has added extra weight to the former notion. When you're drinking/talking with an earnest hippie friend who feels passionately about this cause -- nature versus industrialism, pastoralism versus exploitation, tribal egalitarianism versus macro-societal authoritarianism -- sooner or later you can get them to shut up and realize that they're wasting their breath and energy trying to convert the already converted. One cannot, at present, tell a novel to just shut up and enjoy the sunset though. So far. Ah, me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Justin Robinson's GET BLANK

Justin Robinson's Fill in the Blank series has the makings of a classic except for one small but significant flaw: it is a bit too much a product of the moment, that moment being early 2014, during the grand epic swan song/swan dive of that remarkable but possibly not unforgettable TV series Mad Men*. Which is to say that I'm a bit concerned, regarding this second volume, Get Blank, that it's not going to stand up quite as well as it deserves to in the years to come, when that show and the other pop culture ephemera of this moment are distant memories. And make no mistake, these books deserve to stand up. They deserve to stand up a lot. And that's not any kind of double entendre. Or at least not much of one.

But you know, perhaps early readers of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson had similar concerns, back in the day.

All questions of long-term survival of the book aside, Get Blank is a worthy successor to the book in which our conspiracy-juggling hero was introduced, 2012's thigh-slapping romp Mr. Blank. It has all of the qualities I enjoyed most in that first book, without feeling like the mixture same as before; Robinson importantly proves early on that "Bob" Blank is far from being a one-note character, even as again he goes to a familiar crime/noir plot well, that of the getting-too-old-for-this-ish, it's-somebody-else's-turn wannabe retiree who is sucked back into his old life by forces he can't control and complains about it entertainingly.

Robinson wisely narrows the focus, this time around, on his protagonist/narrator's amusing narrative voice, resisting the temptation to fill this second volume chock full of MOAR. MOAR CONSPIRACIES! MOAR VILLAINS! MOAR SURREALS! MOAR PUNTASTIC DIALOGUE! MOAR MOAR MOAR.

Instead, we rather a more restrained and thoughtful look at Blank's weird world through his grudgingly maturing eyes.** As Bernard Black (perhaps my only pop culture hero that doesn't get a sly mention or allusion in this novel) would say, he's a boytfriend now; he's got duties, responsibilities, lots of hand-holding and sighing... except unlike Bernard, Blank really is a boyfriend now, whether people believe him or not; the buxom bombshell who shared his adventures last novel, Mina the gorgeous plus-sized model, saw something special in him that no one else seems to (except for us, of course) and decided all he really needed to be a suitable partner was some decent clothes. It's sweet!

Alas, the damsel no sooner won is lost again, framed for murder in an obvious but effective ploy to draw the supposedly retired Blank back out into his former, laughably complex, orbits. As plot devices go, it's a bit ho hum, and it deprives us of a character that really enriched the prior novel, but really, how the hell else are a bunch of conspiracy nuts going to suck their favorite gopher back onto the sacrificial goat delivery circuit? I can't think of a better, can you?

Taking Mina's prior-novel place as sidekick/helpmeet-cum-source of bafflement is one Victor Charlie, a genuine Man in Black, complete with old-fashioned-looking car that can speed like a rocketship, but who is way more bizarre than anything Lowell Cunningham et al imagined for the comic book/film franchise of that name. VC is one weird amalgam of person and program, popping off stock phrases like "hubba hubba" at inappropriate times, taking instructions like "hang on a second" too literally, and generally both helping and hindering Blank's progress, often at the exact same moment. I wish he'd come into the story sooner, though. Ditto Elias. O, Elias, O VC. I would read the crap out of the adventures of Blank and Elias and VC, I really would. 23 Skiddo.

Did I laugh out loud on every other page like last time? No. But what I did do was begin to feel for Mr. Blank, to understand what a life like his might actually be like, and to root for his romance. And that's no mean feat when dealing with a cranky reader like me.

Bravo, Justin! Bravo, Blank!

*Remusly, lots of references to Mad Men here, and I'm not just talking about the main female character/quest object (yes, sadly, the magnificent Mina is more of an absence than a presence in this second Blank novel) being pretty much a role crafted expressly for Christina Hendricks in all her stacked and begirdled red-haired Marilyn Monroe sex-bomb glory.

**Lest this make the book sound too po-faced, though, let me assure you, there are still bits that are funny as hell. A running gag in which Blank keeps enlightening us on the seekrit conspiratorial messages hidden in a litany of pop songs Mina has loaded onto his iPod is lots of fun, for instance. And yes, one of them is by R.E.M. and yes it's probably the one you're thinking of.

Friday, June 6, 2014

K.W. Jeter's MADLANDS

K.W. Jeter is probably best known (at least in my circles) as the guy who invented steampunk, or at least the guy who named it. And his Infernal Devices is one of the earliest and, for my money, best examples of the sub-genre.

Others know him as an author of novelizations, franchise works and authorized sequels to famous works by other, better known authors. And that's fine.

But Jeter is his own man, and his own stand-alone work is brilliant. He may never completely emerge from his friend Philip K. Dick's shadow (Jeter has also achieved literary immortality by serving as the model for the character of Kevin, he of the dead cat fame, in Philip K. Dick's VALIS; that's how tight he and Dick and their friend Tim "David" Powers were, yo), but he still manages to shine brilliantly within it, uneclipsed.

It's books like Madlands that demonstrate this most brilliantly. Yes, it has strong Phildickian and, for that matter, Tim Powersful*, qualities, but this book has an angry, noir-ish edge to it his friends' works mostly lack, together with a wonderfully baroque, Grand Guignol sensibility that makes reading it a wickedly enjoyable pleasure.

Jeter's dystopian future Los Angeles is quite literally the product of a deranged imagination; it is a sort of projected construct of the City of Angels' mostly fanciful celluloid past onto a weird void that seems to be all that's left of the world after some unspecified disaster. Reality isn't what it used to be in the Madlands, a zone in which thrill-seekers can come and experience multiple versions of reality all at once, see things their ordinary human eyes can't, etc. etc.** Weirdly, though, nobody who takes a day trip into this zone seems ever to feel like leaving, which has profound consequences for their long-term survival in that the field or wavelength or whatever that lets them experience other realities also messes with people's very cells, very molecules, and destroys their ability to remain organized as human bodies. So everybody who's been there for a while develops multiple cancers as a precursor to eventually becoming a slurpy pile of goo with vestigial eyes that plead for passersby to end the misery with a gun or sledgehammer.

See? Baroque.

Presiding over all of this is a giant egomaniac known as Identrope, who is somehow immune to the effects of the Madlands field, probably because he is somehow the source or cause of it. He is a literal and figurative cult figure, the ultimate TV star-cum-religious leader, who offers a weird and limited but very real (or at least "real") form of immortality to his followers that is the only way for ordinary people to avoid dissolving into protoplasm. And he has lots of takers.

Overlaying all of this weirdness is a plot that will seem almost wearily familiar to anyone who's read a lot of fiction: a crime noir betrayal and doublecross story. Identrope isn't the only guy in the Madlands who has weird powers within it, you see, and he seems to have nursed some vipers at his breast. But that's a good thing.

A very good thing.

And this little bit of familiarity actually winds up feeling pretty welcome among all the weird. Noir is a great anchor for storytelling like this. And this level of weird, well, it needs some anchoring.

The book is an absolute pleasure. Don't miss it!

*Madlands would make a wonderful companion read to Powers' early and underrated Dinner at Deviant's Palace. Identrope and Reverend Jaybush would have a lot to talk about over drinks of worshipper's cerebrospinal fluids or somesuch.

**I imagine this as something like the effects of the machine H.P. Lovecraft's Crawford Tillinghast creates to allow himself to perceive alternate dimensions in "From Beyond" writ very, very large. And permanent. And with much worse side effects.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gene Wolfe's THE LAND ACROSS

Gene Wolfe novels should come with a set of cheat codes, I sometimes think.* For The Land Across (a literal translation of the storied place name of Transylvania, kind of, except I think a better translation of that name would probably be The Forest Across, but hey), the text would then be full of useful hints embedded in the text like "this is probably Dracula" and "whoa, do you think that's the disembodied hand doing stuff again?" and "hey, dummy, if you haven't guessed, this guy's name pretty literally means town of the Count so he might also be Dracula or a close relative."

So yeah, in lots of ways, The Land Across is Gene Wolfe's Dracula story. And that's reason enough to run and go get it right away, right there. But there's more.

The Land Across starts out threatening to seem like a Kafka pastiche/homage. Our (as usual, unreliable) narrator is (supposedly) a travel writer who has decided to write the definitive guidebook on a tiny, unnamed, formerly Communist Central or Eastern European country that no one from the West has really visited yet (damned hipster!) but who gets arrested on an unknown and never explained charge right at the country's border, whisked off his train and forcibly billeted on a local married couple whose lives are to be hostage to his cooperation and good behavior. For good measure, the town (called Puraustays, a name I'm still reckoning with) has no street names and these nameless streets are not exactly straight and there's not much in the way of transportation aside from the good old shank's pony unless you're the cops, which, get ready for the cops in this story by the way.

And that's before things get weird. Because remember, Dracula is involved, although to what degree the individual reader will perceive his involvement/to what degree Dracula is supposed to actually be involved is, I think, going to vary wildly with the individual reader and the amount of interpretive work, discussion and digging he/she is willing to do for the sake of seeing just what the hell ol' Pringle's Face is up to this time.

Soon our narrator is involved in several efforts to unravel several conspiracies, some involving the police/secret police, some involving allegations of Satanism, some involving a long-ago murder that may have had direct consequences on our daffy, impatient narrator's own personal life, some involving the creation, dissemination and marketing of various voodoo supplies, and possibly some involving the overthrow of the government, or of Dracula, or of both because Dracula and the government might well be one and the same, or maybe Dracula is trying to stage a coup d'etat? Maybe? Kind of?

Further confusing matters is a whole new level of Wolfe messing around with language; if the reader is to believe the surface interpretation of the narrative, our narrator is an American abroad, writing in English for an American audience and just doing his best, as he relays the speech of the characters he has encountered in his adventures, to convey the flavor of their speech and the effect said speech has on his doubly-translating brain. The other characters mostly talk in their own language or German, and our narrator has tried to preserve the cadence, word choice and order of their speeches, resulting in things like "that would be most good" instead of "fine", for instance. That's a paltry example of what is saturating this novel and making it a strange read even before the dual ideas of the narrator not being who he claims at all and of machine translation are introduced. We might, in other words, be reading an extensive propaganda piece, imperfectly translated into English by a mystical or mechanical gadget. Oy.

Then there is a whole 'nother theme of possession. We meet one important character who, it turns out, is an exorcist, and lots of passages might sneak by the inattentive reader until he or she realizes that our protagonist doesn't always seem to be in control of himself, fearing, for example, to fall asleep at one point because he might shoot the lady he's in bed with if he does. Um, whut? But you know, what's a voodoo/vampire tale without a little of that here and there?

So, big surprise, this looks like another book that is going to reward careful re-reading. Just like all the rest of Wolfe's stuff. I'd better start researching longevity therapies, because I need a whole lot of time yet. Hurry up with those cheat codes, children.

*And if you think that would spoil the fun, well, don't look at the cheat codes, dur. Cheat codes aren't for everyone. Cheat codes are for people who want to experience the game's story fully but who lack the manual dexterity/time/skill to jump through all the hoops and overcome all the impediments (driving levels are my Achilles' heel, personally) to get to the end in their own lifetimes. Or who have a lot of other books to get through before the bucket at the end of the list gets kicked, yo. But yes, I like figuring some stuff out for myself also. So I took great pleasure in SPOILER ALERT seeing the possible metacommentary inherent in the name of one of the novel's many cafes, Cafe Tetrasemnos, being as it's located near the Church of St. Barachisius. Tetrasemnos basically would mean "four revered things" and St. Barachisius was martyred for refusing to worship four things: the sun, the moon, fire and water as the King of Persia commanded. I haven't had that much fun with researching weird religious ish since my first time reading Foucault's Pendulum, yo.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

J.G. Ballard's HELLO AMERICA

While the Planet of the Apes' iconic Statue of Liberty Buried In The Sand is an old favorite, I think I prefer J.G. Ballard's Lady Liberty: Navigation Hazard (see the Dutch cover for this novel, in the lower right corner of this post), upon whose crown which the good ship Apollo (named for, of course, the famous lunar expeditions) tears open its hull as its already mad captain takes it full steam ahead toward the glittering golden dunes engulfing New York City as depicted in this brilliant cover art.

I can't exactly call Hello America post-apocalyptic; the rest of the world is just fine, thanks (albeit yes, culturally and technologically ebbing from the high water mark of mid-century civilization). America, though, is a hundred years dead, victim of its own excess (the fossil fuels ran out) and of other countries' questionable decisions, chiefly that of the USSR, which dammed the Bering Strait to improve its own climate and make of Siberia the world's new bread basket. Altering ocean currents so profoundly has left (most of) North America a scorching desert, one which Ballard of course describes vividly and beautifully:
Half the Appalachians had been destroyed by the sun to yield this deluge of rock and dust. Street signs and traffic lights protruded from the sand, a rusty metallic flora, old telephone lines trailed waist-high marking out a labyrinth of pedestrian catwalks. Here and there, in the hollows between the dunes, were the glass doors of bars and jewelry stores, dark grottoes like subterranean caves... In the centre of Times Square a giant saguaro cactus raised its thirty foot arms into the over-heated air, an imposing sentinel guarding the entrance to a desert nature reserve.
We see this surreal future cityscape through the eyes of one of Ballard's more active protagonists, Wayne, a Dublin-born descendant of Americans who fled back to Europe when America became uninhabitable. Wayne starts his journey as a stowaway aboard the Liberty-crashing Apollo, which is bringing a scientific expedition to America to investigate the source of some worrisome radiation readings that are coming from the continent's interior -- the last one who left did not turn out the nuclear lights, if you know what I mean. True to Ballardian form, Wayne is driven by a strange obsession, or set of obsessions, as is each member of the ship's crew. For Wayne, coming to America is both a search for his half-imaginary missing father (a scientist from a prior expedition that never returned) and for his own destiny, for young Wayne fantasizes about being the 45th President of the United States.*

Wayne crosses the continent with a strange crew of scientists, paramilitary wannabes, the usual Ballardian cast, right down to the token female, physicist Anne Summers, who is, as usual, stuck carrying all the men's bullshit anima projections across the desert and into the Amazonian jungle that has encroached into the American Southwest (now as lush and overgrown as the East is dry and Saharan, because deliberate climate change). So the ship's captain and most of the other military types assume she'll be their submissive sex-kitten once the desert has softened her up and teased loose that severe hairdo, which happens soon enough: "and there emerged, like a flare of light from a grenade, the long blonde hair that now shadowed her from the sun... This white mane made her resemble some beautiful nomadic widow, endlessly crossing the desert in search of a young husband."

Of course that second fantasy is Wayne's. He's going to make her his First Lady, don't you know. A gallant, gallant soul, is Wayne. And never mind what Anne might actually want for herself. No, really, never mind, because (sigh) her character pretty much devolves the second she sets foot on the "golden" sands of Manhattan. She's a nuclear physicist of enough importance to be selected for this potentially vital expedition, but get her near a derelict department store and all she wants to do is loot ball gowns and cosmetics counters so she can play dress up. Oh, Anne.

So yeah, Wayne (and Ballard, dammit) could probably do better.

Ah, but so many things stand between Wayne and his goals (goals! A Ballardian protagonist with goals!), not the least of which is the new Great American Desert**, still sparsely populated by the weird, half-savage descendents of the people who couldn't get/keep it together enough to evacuate the continent when everyone else did; these post-American Indians are divided into regional tribes with names like The Professors (from Boston), The Executives (Manhattan) and The Bureaucrats (Washington DC), who engage in bizarre cargo-cult imitations of mid-20th-century civilziation and name themselves after major international brand names.*** So soon Wayne finds himself in the company of freaks named GM and Pepsodent... and the reader finds herself wondering when he's going to encounter Mrs. Etheyl Shroake and establish diplomatic relations with England-after-the-nuclear-misunderstanding.

Enter one Charles Manson, who has deliberately adopted the name of the 20th century's most famous psycho killer and has beaten Wayne to the job of being POTUS #45. A most Kurtz-like figure might Manson seem to be, except it's pretty obvious that he was looney-tunes long before he set up his kingdom in the jungle and started up a program of bizarre Phildickian robot-building and nuclear-missile-recommissioning with the help of a scientist who got stranded in America a generation or so ago...

So yes, of all the Ballard I've read to date, Hello America is the most nearly plot-driven. Story elements come together, as do characters. Loose ends get tied up. A story gets told. The work is every bit as vividly hallucinatory and allusive as the elemental apocalypse books, every bit as beautifully written, every bit as hiply magical, but it's more of an actual story than I've grown used to coming from him. Which is awesome.

But even so, the plot is not really the point, for above all else, Hello America is a meditation on the emptiness of mid-century dreaming, of our culture's enduring fixation on Presidents and movie stars and madmen, in which we seem wont to indulge even at the expense of sustaining the civilization that produced these idols. Somebody else clean up this mess; I wanna have a martini and look at Playboy. And shut up about Peak Oil. What are you, a Russki?

And it's also an indulgence in that most seductive of fantasies, that of infinite elbow room. Everybody who comes to this America has a dream of having a continent to him- or herself. Perhaps everybody always has. Hell, as Sartre observed, is other people. So the gleaming golden shore of a dune-submerged metropolis must look a lot like heaven.

At least until your camels die. Or you run out of lipstick. Or you find yourself staring down a scrum of robotic Presidents.

Ballard, man...

*The 44th, of course, having been Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown, who spent out the remainder of his term and days meditating at some Japanese zen center after his nation and his presidency dissolved into a state of non-being.

**Which, this landscape and the remnants of human attempts to maintain the status quo ante for a while within it make Hello America feel almost like a direct sequel to The Burning World, as Wayne and his party keep encountering sad little examples of pathetic attempts to survive that world's new normal -- water reclamation stills built out of spare parts, kluged-together steam engines hastily mounted into classic Detroit-built automobiles, etc.

***More stuff to tick off the feminist in you: not only is there an all female tribe called The Divorcees who are pretty much just a multi-form parody of mid-century womanhood, but then there's this cultural tidbit from the Executive tribe: all Executive women are named Xerox, because they make good copies.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ian Tregillis' BITTER SEEDS

If Tim Powers and H.P. Lovecraft somehow managed to reach out to one another across the dark and malevolent vastness of time and space to write a cosmic horror story set in World War II, the result might be something very like Bitter Seeds, the first volume of Ian Tregillis' Milkweed trilogy (or triptych, as the marketers of these books seem to insist on calling it).

Of course, Powers did write a World War II novel all his own, the wonderful spies-and-genies romp Declare, of which it was difficult not to think while following the adventures of Milkweed (itself so very reminiscent of Mike Mignola's Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, of Hellboy fame) and their unspellable (I'm lazy and lacking bandwidth so I'm not gonna look it up) Nazi German counterparts. Fortunately, I was not making the comparison to Tregillis' detriment; Bitter Seeds is as enjoyable as any Powers novel, and as well written, even though it's telling a very different tale.

The story begins at the tail end of World War I, when unsavory types are scouring the battle-ravaged countryside of Belgium and surrounding lands, harvesting orphans like so many rotting cabbages. Some weird doctor, one Westcarp, is paying good money for young children delivered to his orphanage. Several children, including a brother and sister, Klaus and Gretel, are so delivered to their sinister and mysterious fate.

Meanwhile in England, a boy about their age is subjected to mysterious and unsavory experiences under the supervision of his noble grandfather, a duke, whose son one presumes was a casualty of war but at least died with the requisite heir and a spare. The boy getting experimented with -- Will -- being, of course, the spare.

The Germans, led by Westcarp, it turns out, are trying in their mechanized and industrial way, to duplicate the magical milieu of Will and his grandfather, who, we learn, are warlocks. Warlocks being humanity's self-appointed negotiators with the Eidolons*, who arrange the "blood price" that has to be paid whenever somebody wants to break the laws of physics. Usually it's just a fingertip, occasionally it's your sanity, etc. -- really just depends on how big a violation you're wanting to effect.

The negotiations are carried out in a terrible, mind-bending language called Enochian, which you can only learn if you start really, really, young -- hence Will's weird childhood.

But Westcarp is not down with that ish. Westcarp has decided that electricity can take the place of Paranormal Pimsleur. And so Gretel and Klaus and their fellows wind up with wires surgically implanted in their skulls, connecting their brains to batteries they have to tote around in order to use the powers they have honed through years of unspeakable experimentation.

So yeah, English wizards versus Nazi cyborgs. What's not to love?

And I'm not even touching on the character drama, of course, which is where Tregillis comes closest to Powers' style and substance. If you love Powers' stories, you're going to love this. If you love mid-century settings. If you love wizardry. If you love war stories. If you love Nazi Weird Science schlock. There's something for pretty much everybody here.

And it's all set up for the next novel, in which, naturally, the Soviets are obviously going to be much more involved. They want to violate the laws of physics too, you guys. Which path will they take? Or will they forge a new one as we head into a Lovecraftian Cold War.

I'm so down to find out. So very down.

Many thanks to the wondrous Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin on Twitter), who told me about these books over a cup of coffee on a whistle stop visit last summer.

*This is where the Lovecraft comes in, of course, in that the Eidolons are basically Great Old Ones, unknowably vast alien inimical Others who exist on such a scale that we are like bacteria to them, and they're pissed off because they're all out of hand sanitizer.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tony Burgess' THE n-BODY PROBLEM

It just this second hit me that the title of The n-Body Problem Tony Burgess' disturbingly memorable follow-up to the disturbingly memorable PontyPool Changes Everything is a pun in like three different ways. This weeks after I actually read the thing*. And this insight is hardly the only one to club me over the head in the intervening time.

Like Pontypool, The n-Body Problem could superficially be categorized as zombie fiction, but also like Pontypool (but not really like the rapturously lyrical Zone One that I recently praised to the skies**), this novel has a lot more going on than standard zombie fare.

This time around the zombie-causing disease has a more straightforward vector, but its results are far more disturbing: the victim dies but continues to move, to flail, to twitch. It won't stay buried -- the earth churns up at sites of mass graves until the writhing dead resurface. It will burn but the disease is so virulent that the living can't keep up with the crematory duties. It can be dismembered and diced up, but the bits keep on hopping around like so many undead jumping beans. The twitching dead are a problem, yo,

As our story opens, though, someone has devised a solution. If we can't deal with the twitching dead here on earth, let's launch them into space! A whole industry has sprung up around this, has become pretty much the only way to prosperity in this damned world.

And at last our primitive notions of Heaven as a place in the sky where our beloved dead go to spend eternity is given real form. For a monthly fee you can even track your particular loved one the way we internet users in 2014 can track the International Space Station and thus know exactly when to rush outside and watch and salute its brisk journey across our own personal sky.

But remember what I said about volume. And industry. Yeah.

Some solutions can be as bad as, or worse than, their problems. And here's where the title looks like it's going to really come into play: In physics, the n-body problem is an ancient, classical problem of predicting the individual motions of a group of celestial objects interacting with each other gravitationally. And now we've launched millions of new ones into near-earth orbit to join all of the frozen astronaut piss and debris that we'd already flung up there. Stuff that, occasionally, eventually loses momentum, breaks orbit, and comes crashing back to earth to burn up as it streaks through our atmosphere.

Mmm. Zombie meteorites.

And that's not even the primary environmental problem they cause, you guys.

Meanwhile, this is still a Tony Burgess novel, which means all that is just unpleasant backdrop to a hideously grotesque and deranged and disturbing and I'm just going to run out of adjectives trying to convey the sheer ickiness so I'm just going to stop here, earthbound story of sort-of-survival in rural Ontario amid apocalyptic madness, doomsday cultism (on a suspiciously industrialized scale) and the twitching dead. Heaven is not the only thing that's been literalized here. And soon the hell gets very, very personal for our protagonist (emphasis on the "agon" here, if you know what I mean). N- body scans kind of like "nobody", and he kind of is, and then... ARGH MY BRAIN JUST SHUT DOWN I THINK I NEED THERAPY.

A lot of people are going to put this book down, if not throw it or the e-reader currently containing it at a nearby wall, in sheer disgust pretty early on, but those of you who tough it out are in for, well, an even more unpleasant -- yet nonetheless amazing -- reading experience. Burgess is an artist of great imagination, talent, focus and yes, grotesquerie, a 21st century master of the grand guignol, a Hieronymous Bosch and a Goya of prose, who finds in playing with the zombie genre a proper showcase for what he can do.

He can do a lot.

Now I think I need a lie down.

Many thanks to Popqueenie, whose own reactions to this book are quite entertaining, for the chance to read this one. And headvomit. And keep on reading.

*Life has been happening. A whole lot of it, yo. I left my high-stress-but-also-high-downtime-job and the city of Cheyenne for a lower-key type B life in my home town of Saratoga, WY. It's been chaotic.

**Ha ha! You'll see what I did there in a moment!

Flattr for Blogger