Thursday, October 19, 2017


By Drew Gates
Green Ant Press 2013

Punk, strange, amazing - this is tough book even to describe (but I will have a go). Roughly speaking it is the adventures of Charlie, Dean and Snowy in an apocalyptic war-torn Sydney from a parallel universe. The Chinese military is beseiging the outer suburbs using war machines that seem to date from World War One. Meanwhile the cityfolk are running wild in "the Darklands", where sex and drug parties happen on a farcical scale. If that seems interesting to you then you should probably ignore the rest of this review and jump straight into it (I'm going to rant on for a bit and it may compromise your "what the fuck!" experience).

This novel is evidently inspired by Burroughs and the "Interzone" as well as possibly "a Clockwork Orange". It also made me think of Australian punk films such as "Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em"(88) and "Going Down"(83). Occasionally the novel makes its literary influences far too obvious and starts to feel like a homage (ie the Chinaski stuff). I would have preferred less of the overt references - this book stands alone as a totally unique work.

I still have no idea what is up with the title - Blockpanda. It doesn't seem to have any relevance to the story. But maybe I just don't get it. It's also never explained why there aren't more shells falling into the Darklands. Or what the pink mist is. I'm also skeptical that Ibotenic acid passes unchanged through the human body (I even went to wikipedia with that one). Also note that a lot of the ideas here appear in "Underneath the Stairwell" in a lesser form (I would encourage readers to avoid that book entirely).

I occasionally felt the work was slanted too far on the hetero male side of things. There's not many female characters and there's someone called the "Quacking Faggot" who is the subject of various unflattering annecdotes.

I thought some of the narrative elements didn't coexist too well. For example the twins didn't fit very well alongside Marion. It was no problem for me that a lot of the story was weird vignettes from the Darklands. But maybe some of the overarching elements should be cut in order to properly develop the other overarching elements.

Despite the prose being actually very fluid and even well-edited, the story retains a very raw, punk, imperfect feeling. So I'm reluctant to imply that it could be improved with more work. This is a real fun Australian novel.

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