Finally, Some Good News

Over at the Luke Ford YouTube channel, a feature every Friday night is a discussion of a book, not always of a political nature.

I don’t read every book discussed, but sometimes books are discussed that I’ve meant to read or am interested enough to read when hearing about them. While I’ve posted on some of the ones I’ve read, there are a lot more I read and didn’t review. I’ve reconciled myself to people coming to this blog for reviews of weird tales and science fiction thus I have not posted reviews of books on Stoic philosophy, the beginnings of the Portuguese Empire in the Indian Ocean, Joan of Arc, a Bobby Fischer biography, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons.

However, this one seemed to be a post-apocalypse science fiction. That and its length caused me to read it despite the fact that I had never heard of it or the author’s pseudonym.

That I would consider the book science fiction just because it has a nuclear strike is rather curious. After all, nuclear weapons are not speculative any longer, and the use of them is not speculative either. Both have been in the real world for more than 80 years. I suppose certain disaster novels, including those depicting nuclear war, are sort of in the penumbra in which something of pure speculation shines in a halo around mundane reality.

Review: Finally, Some Good News, Delicious Tacos, 2018.

Finally Some Good News
Cover by Matt Lawrence

This is a novel of extreme social discontentment. How can it not be when the mushroom cloud over Los Angeles is, as the title has it, “good news”?

Our hero – I’m not sure we ever get his name – is in his early 40s.

He works in one of those modern jobs that, ultimately, produces no physical wealth “providing data driven solutions to optimize cross platform branded content”. On his lunch break, he’s in his car listening to Wagner. He likes to bird watch when he’s not working.

The novel is a bit confusing at the beginning. It’s not only the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue but the jumping back and forth in the protagonist’s life, one scene of the past blending with a similar one in the present. It suggests, I suppose, the ennui of life in the modern West.

We hear, in wincing detail, about some of the hero’s sexual encounters with whores, Tinder dates, and single moms. He is desperate for touch. He longs to impregnate a woman.

But the sexual marketplace is broken. Pathetically, he helps a rich man (who allegedly made his money in software) win a beautiful wife by writing the man’s online profile. It works – even if the intended target knows who the real author of the words is.

Ironically, he finds the land of his dreams — on an island in the Philippine that’s a lair of an ISIS- affiliated group. There he finds a woman he thinks he loves, that he can marry. Her father respects him, and he just needs one favor from our hero. It is there that our protagonist issues the novel’s basic cri du cœur (maybe cri des reins is more appropriate):

I have to work to pay to work to get a woman’s attention so she can reject me. Love is impossible. A house, a wife– a second date, impossible. Normal things. I’ll never hold my first child. Those things just ended. Yes, I hate my work. And I’m afraid of losing it. They get angry if you’re not thankful for it. That’s a bad attitude. You have to lie every day, every minute, and say you love the thing that’s killing you. It’s Satanic. What do we have, better toilets? The men are all liars. The women are barely people anymore. I’m barely a person anymore. I’m starting to like it. I’m starting to feel proud when I close a deal. To sell branded entertainment. To sell Verizon to fucking moms– it’s all like this. Everything exists just to sell you shit and you have to sell shit too just to live and they make you fucking smile about it. I’ll get old like this. Alone. Nothing but my career– I wish you would kill me. Please–

On that island, a chain of events is started that eventually puts exploding nukes over Los Angeles and gives our hero the chance to save the pretty office girl Marcy (who, weirdly, gets a chapter of her own towards the end of the book which jarringly breaks up the flow of the book).

The author makes such detailed observations about some things that one suspects transmuted autobiography. I can’t say that many of the discontentments with modern life are ones I’ve personally experienced, but they match what I’ve heard from others.

This is, despite the brief, post-apocalypse LA parts – complete with Mad Max references and one very disturbing scene about happens to survivors in a supermarket –a novel of social criticism about not only the relations between men and women but young men bored in the grind of mandatory education, the depravations of capitalism, immigrant gangs, sexual blackmail of the elite, and bureaucracies private and public. Indeed, while many sections brought a smile to my face, it was only the scene where our hero calls the FBI to report a terrorist plot that made me laugh.

Well, that and the novel’s amusingly savage ending. It may explain, along with many other parts of the novel, why the author used a pseudonym: protection against libel suits.

There is one puzzling bit in the novel, when the protagonist has a violent clash with another accidental survivalist in LA, that I’m not sure was meant ironically or if its some sort of generational conflict or simply a stark Darwinian statement on the basics of male-female bonding in extremis

The novel is short enough, bawdy enough, detailed enough to appeal to those who share the author’s disgust with our world. For those who don’t, well, I’m not sure it will change many minds or make people empathize with the hero’s plight. But it’s short and holds the interest.

And, yes, there is a happy ending in the ruins of LA.

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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