Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The A-Men by John Trevillian

The A-MenIn The A-Men, John Trevillian paints an apocalyptic picture of an induced collapse of civilization by corporate whim. Macro-corporations have long since replaced governments as the de facto supplier of civilization's needs and wants. But without government oversight, there's no one to keep the corporations in line. After all, you don't vote for corporations (even stockholders don't hold as much power as they think they do). With a sizable chunk of humanity moved off-world to orbital cities (and presumably other worlds), and resources nearly run out, there's no real incentive for these corporations to stick around. They all decide to pull out, leaving the earthbound to fend for themselves. Anarchy ensues as long suppressed gangs rise to fill the power vacuum.

Thrust into to this scene, is Jack, a man who's had his memory erased. We learn from the start that he asked to have this done. Why, we don't know. He's enlisted in some token security force being sent into one of the cities to maintain the illusion of order, but it's really to make sure no one tries to escape.

Jack's unit is ill-equipped for the mission and they're soon overrun. He and the survivors of his unit are forced to go AWOL and fend for themselves amidst the ruins and the gangs. Armed with Forevermore, a book of faerie tales, Jack tries to make sense of things and figure out why he had his own memory erased.

It's a punk rock wet dream, right down to the Anarchy A on the back of Jack's jacket. Corporations control everything. Religion is a joke. Human life has no value. There are plenty of guns (though ammo doesn't seem to be a problem), drugs, a hot car that gets tagged and some sex thrown in. Jack even gets involved in a romance straight out of Sid & Nancy.

As ambitious as Trevillian's story is, it's not without its flaws. Although I was lured in by high tech lab experiment set up in the first chapter, I found the pace to be a bit slow for some time. The opening tension and mystery faded until 80 pages in, when the macrocorps pull out and chaos ensues. I suppose that's ok for a story that's 400 pages long, but it still felt like it was meandering around for too long. While it could be said that it was done for character development, too many of the minor characters were subsequently abandoned later in the story to explain the pace of development here. For instance, Jack uses the death of one of the minor characters to convince Esther to return to the A-Men. At no point beforehand has Trevillian given us a reason to believe that Esther cared one iota about this dead minor character.

The story is told from the first person POV of five characters. Trevillian imbues each one with a distinct voice. That is both a blessing and a curse. While it's a plus for characterization, the drawback is in the way it's expressed. 23rdxenturyboy's voice is all contractions. Duck'n, dive'n, dodge'n and weave'n. While a few words adds color to a character's speech, when it's this thick I'm reminded of Mark Twain characters. It becomes taxing to the reader.

But the worst offense is the stream of consciousness style writing that comes to be the hallmark of Jack's voice. There is a never ending run of sentence fragments. Like this. And this. Not just a sentence here and there. Not just paragraphs. But pages. And pages. Whole chapters. Just like this. While I have no problem with it being used here and there to emphasize a point or for dramatic effect, Trevillian goes overboard.

It's not that Trevillian doesn't know how to write. He provides us with some excellent prose, but it's best expressed in the soliloquies of Dr. Glass. It seems that this is the only way he has to show how damaged Jack's brain is. Maybe that's why instead of getting one metaphor we get three. But it leaks into other characters as well. Ultimately, we get conflicting metaphors, like this one from Esther: "...we drop like mountains from the hands of God the Allfather. Like sinners from the gates of paradise." For me, the former paints a far different picture than the latter.

In summary, John Trevillian has written an ambitious, punk rock look at a gritty dystopian post-corporate future. While his characters are colorful and compelling, the writing style used to convey their innermost thoughts is taxing. The believability of the inter-relationships between the characters fizzles through the neglect of minor characters and the main character's own self-absorption.

The A-Men is available through the author's website in a variety of formats.

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