By Drew Gates
Green Ant Press 2013
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).
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.