Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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So Floyd Maquina is a movie buff, and his life reads like a rough-cut collage of plenty of them—spades, you
might say, as a subtle nod to one of his templates/heroes. Though there isn’t much subtle in the citation
of classic flicks that peppers this future shock noir tale like automatic gunfire. Rather, we’re bombarded
with film titles, character names, actors and assorted references. Bands get shout-outs, songs, dancers, all as
part of Floyd’s intentionally tough-sounding reflections on the world in which he lives, a
post-“Catastrophe” Melbourne where the divide between haves and have-nots is sharper than ever and
corporate-fascist police act as the iron hand of the corporate-fascist state. Floyd—a la Blade
Runner, not that there’s any chance you could miss the connection—is employed as a kind of cop
himself, a Seeker, charged with tracking down Deviants, as defined by a relatively recent bit of legislation
pushed through by—you guessed it—a corporate-fascist conglomeration headed by a villain whose lair
reminds our hero of “bachelor pads from 1950s movies with Rock Hudson and Tony Randall.”
First as cinema, Marx could have written, second as farce. This is what Bergen gives us, a speedy little entertainment, chock-a-block with winks and nods, that is both tribute and parody, like an episode of The Simpsons that “remakes” scenes from The Third Man. This isn’t the smooth, self-serious-yet-seductive style of Brick, not the updated, rumpled bafflement of “Elliott Gould’s Philip Marlowe” (likewise mentioned in these pages), nor is it an examination of such films as iconic as in Goddard’s (who is also name-dropped) À bout de souffle. Rather, we have a character with a “plagiaristic mind” existing in a dystopic sci-fi formula—a “xenophobic, rotting hulk of a city . . . divided into a dozen culturally cut-up and socioeconomically distinct districts, you know, each occupied by swarms of police and trigger-thrilled security types, and separated from one another with blockades and fences, along with a shocking case of paranoia.” Give him a job straight out of a film, let him consciously craft dialogue for himself based on film lines, and let him offer commentary on his situation in terms of films. Other things happen, of course—there’s an attempted coup, a bizarre “Test” wherein Floyd is made to feel as though he killed his wife—but the bulk of the book is reference. He enters a room and the dé reminds him of “George Lucas’ THX 1138.” He slinks “back into the shadows of the doorway, still feeling like a faux Harry Lime.” He “felt like Max von Sydow’s knight in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal—dabbling in a game of chess with Death....” “It was all a bit surreal and trippy, like that merry-go-round scene in Terry Gilliam’s take on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” or “Visions of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil rattled in my head,” or something about Humphrey Bogart or something about Basil Rathbone, something about George Sanders or something about Doctor Who. Meanwhile there is a “plasti-sky” above the posh shopping zone where the wealthy live, “Cricketing Police” rigging that game, and—as if straight from William Gibson, one name notably absent in this book—the poor are huddled together in overcrowded and decaying ghettos under “the constant drizzle, the acrid smells, the wretched crimson sky.” Those who can go synthetic, while basic items like milk and eggs become unknown to the vast majority. It’s all something we’ve seen before on late-night TV, only Bergen clearly enjoys rollicking through it, tossing asides to all sides, splicing in scenes from this and that.
There is an insomniacal feel to this novel, and while so much is so predictable—so already known—it nonetheless, like some of the campier sources it salutes, is compelling enough to keep you up late on the couch, watching until the final scene. George Sanders freezing bank tellers in an episode of Batman doesn’t pack much surprise, either, nor much emotional realism, but if there were a marathon of that show on tonight, I might well find myself watching it in the odd, long hours before dawn. That’s the feel Bergen taps here; not noir but camp, not suspense but romping, less The Third Man and more Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Official Andrez Bergen Web Site
Official Another Sky Press Web Site