AUTHOR’S PREFACE: It’s fitting that my review of this book appears here, because it’s via this wonderful blog that I first became acquainted with Mr Ryan Oakley. After which I stalked friended him, and in the way of the Golden Age of the Internet, quickly formed a band groupblog (The Worldwide Culture Gonzo Squad) that went kinda nowhere, but formed a lasting and important friendship.
SHOP. EAT. REPEAT.
Little is widely known about Canada’s speculative super soldier program. Much was rumoured, little actually validated. Ryan Oakley was whispered to be the bastard mind-child of Anthony Burgess and Philip K. Dick, but this was only confirmed with the release of his debut novel TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL into the wild. Torn pages clutched by catatonic mall rats left to rot in the back rows of electronic superstores. Curious graffiti in bathroom stalls announcing “The Coming Revelation of the Great Chosen One, Teevee”. Russian squats full of lively debate driven by dot-matrix printed excerpts, mistranslated from German. Ultraviolent science fiction makes its heroic return; travelling through time, back to kill the future.
TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL (#TCUM) is a busted neon literary warning sign. Where cyberpunk failed, this must succeed in alerting us to hyper-capitalism’s end state: the mega-mall as polis. Born to shop, in death do we become commerce itself (“you could usually get more for a dead person than you could pull from their pockets”). Hyper-mediated, people are alienated from their own body, unable to feel anything without the right chemical compound. Corporate colonisation of emotion and sensation.
This is what comes of the “old people afraid of the sky” future, as Bruce Sterling has described it, written before he even uttered the words. Outside may as well be the surface of the Moon (or better yet, Mars); there is only the Mall. The adult version of Nausicaä Valley of the Wind, but with gigantic, hermetically sealed machinery instead of mutant bugs. The malls feed on the garbage of the past, as the book itself mines the midden heaps of the collective refuse of the decadent 20th century (that still lingers on like a dying fire-breathing dragon stumbling into a village, unaware it’s killing us all.) This is Demolition Man mutated and buried underground by the Umbrella Corporation. This is Plato’s three-souled corporate Republic with its Red (bronze-souled favella), Green (silver-souled bourgeoisie) and Blue (golden-souled ruling class) levels, and twice as sickening.
All written through the visible lens of lived experience. Less Neuromancer, more Metrophage; bringing the punk back into the cyber, like John Shirley and Richard Kadrey before him. Marbled like Kobe beef with the fat of concepts killer enough to fill a series of grindhouse movies. garnished with cosmetic grinds like dermal holograms and implants, with a hint of mind transfer and seasoned with gritty GITS‘esque posthumanity distributed into the meat… massaged in perfectly, and served raw.
A plot shaped like a serrated blade (in Ryan’s own words) favoured by the Rude Boy gangs (think A Clockwork Orange with Mirrorshades) that run rampant on the Red Levels and covertly on the Green. A reality scaffolded with Info Dumps and Product Placements; side tales and adverts flesh out this inhospitable universe producing a complex net effect, rather like the excellent 01980s transhumanist war tome, Schisimatrix Plus.
There’s a flavour of character for everyone. For me it’s undeniably TeeVee; VidiCon gang Alpha(elder/leader) with his mongoose familiar Rikki-Tikki, who’s hacked his way through the doors of perception and come out looking like a monster through the controlled eyes of this tale’s hero, Budgie. An otaku technopriest who groks the minds of the mall inhabitants, manipulating them on a micro and macro level in an attempt to achieve his endgame with memetic prowess.
Orbiting characters include the trademark scrotum-slicing femme fatale Harmony, aspirant mega-star DJ, Sitcom and the rule-bound VidiCon prospect, Griff.
Budgie’s heroic journey from unthinking gangling isn’t to Enlightenment, but simply to discover and claim his own humanity; he’s so removed from it. The Ultra Mall being a near-perfect alienation machine walking through the materialist wasteland, living on regurgitated ideas and recycled air, he struggles to understand how he can advance his position within this environment, let alone transcend it.
The rants of mall culture critic Lenny Niedenberg are another highlight of this: think Bill Hicks meets Henry Rollins…
…juxtaposed against shock jock Bob Anger, who, strangely, functions as much to limit, shape and ultimately absorb any rage felt by the do(o)med dwellers.
But every tale needs closure, and this one doesn’t disappoint (or spare the reader any gore that might have been left to the imagination of the more proudly sick.) Conflicts are resolved, sacrifices are made and the masses might even be awakened as a result… at least, before the spectacle is imprisoned inside the distancing genie bottle of film.
Come for the ultraviolence, stay for the science-fictional mind-juice. This is a masterfully written must-read for anyone trying to understand just how this world of ours could all go horribly wrong(er).