Barricade, and opening up

I have a book coming out this year and the anticipation is affecting me. Perhaps understandably, I have become fascinated in that process that authors go through when their books hit print. Countless writers have gone through it. Some to harsh reviews, some to raves, and some, of course, to dreadful indifference. What must that be like, to have something you’ve spent years on suddenly be held up for casual judgement? I have no idea, but I’ll probably find out soon.

It’s probably natural that in trying to second guess this slightly life-changing event that I’ve looked to my peers. Specifically, I’ve looked to those other new authors that my publisher is carrying—those people a little further down the same path as myself.

In stalking them on the web, I hit my first key realization. As a writer, I should have been giving reviews, since years ago, to every writer whose work struck me in one way or another. And that’s because without such feedback, a writer is alone in the dark. A review by another writer, even an unfavorable one, is a mark of respect.

As it is, I have a tendency to lurk online, finding what I need but not usually participating in the business of commenting. However, this process of looking at the nearly-me’s out there has brought home that the web can and should be a place of dialog. It’s stronger and better when individual opinions are contributed. If I expect it from others, I should contribute myself. The reviewing habit, then is one which I am going to try to take up immediately.

Which brings me to the first Gollancz title I consumed during my peerwise investigation: Barricade, by Jon Wallace. And to my first online book review. Before I tell you what I thought of it, I should first give you a sense of what it’s about. Rather than cutting a fresh description, I will pull from Amazon.

Kenstibec was genetically engineered to build a new world, but the apocalypse forced a career change. These days he drives a taxi instead. A fast-paced, droll and disturbing novel, BARRICADE is a savage road trip across the dystopian landscape of post-apocalypse Britain; narrated by the cold-blooded yet magnetic antihero, Kenstibec. Kenstibec is a member of the ‘Ficial’ race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Originally optimised for construction, Kenstibec earns his keep as a taxi driver, running any Ficial who will pay from one surrounded city to another. The trips are always eventful, but this will be his toughest yet. His fare is a narcissistic journalist who’s touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that’s just the start of his troubles. On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race. He also finds time to uncover a terrible plot to destroy his species for good – and humanity too.

My two cents:

I enjoyed this book. It had shades of Blade Runner and Mad Max, with a heavy dose of English cultural claustrophobia thrown in. I liked the way that the viewpoint character’s flattened affect lifted gently over the course of the novel. I liked the pacing. I liked the simple, self-contained quality of the dystopian world that’s presented. While the content is often bleak, sometimes to the point of ruling out hope, there is always humor there. And most of all, I appreciated the underlying message of the book. In essence, Barricade proposes (IMO) that we are saved in the end not by clever ideas or grand political visions, but by hope, humanity, and persistent, restless experimentation in the face of adversity. I sympathize with that outlook.

Is the book perfect? Of course not. No book ever is. The flattened affect, and the blunt, violent bleakness of the novel, both come with a cost in reader engagement that will no doubt vary from person to person. I was not bothered, but I can imagine others who would be.

Furthermore, the human characters, bar one, are ironically the least fully drawn (perhaps deliberately). But all creative choices come with side-effects. Barricade held my attention to the end, entertained me, and encouraged me to think.

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