Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
I both liked and hated this book.
The story is set in a not too distant future, a time of technological wonders and massive economic inequality, with shrunken governments and security to be found only in private armies. Most people live the lives of slaves, “contracted” to serve the wealthy. But everyone is on “Blink”, the world wide concatenation of the live streams from every web cam and drone in the world—billions of streams vying for attention, for followers, for a few minutes at the top of “Blink”. One of the best ways to get attention is to act out terrible violence for the whole world to watch in real time.
Young Zoey Ashe is suddenly thrown into a dangerous and violent mess when her absent biological father dies and leaves her control over his shady multi-billion dollar empire. Unsurprisingly, predators of all kinds descend on her, including her late father’s inner circle who, frankly, are hard to tell from the other bad guys.
She is forced to move to her father’s mansion in Tabula Ra$a, a new Las Vegas that out Vegases Vegas. The whole city is outside the jurisdiction of Utah or any state, and is run by the wealthy owners. The city is a free wheeling place, with no law other than contract law, and awash with private security, gangs, casinos, sex workers and billionaires. This is not a safe place for a 20 year old from out of town.
This is an entertaining fictional city, and Wong did a good job portraying the wild, wacky, weirdness of Tabula Ra$a. And Zoey is a plucky young woman. That part I liked.
The plot involves the fight over Zoey’s inheritance, which turns out to include new technology that enables people to implant amazing, comic book augmentations, and become superheroes. This is not a good thing to unleash on the world, and the ensuing violence certainly shows it.
I use the adjective “comic book” adisedly: much of the book is about as shallow, confusing, and violent as a bad comic book. This is the thing I really didn’t like about the book.
First of all, I had trouble getting through the boring plot that is basically one endless fight scene. The characters are pretty shallow, and they interact in trivial ways. Most of the characters are comic book villains, with little depth or understandable motive. A lot it makes no sense: the people are so stupid, the plot is full of holes.
For example, when Zoey inherits a huge fortune it is obvious that Zoey’s mother need to be protected. But no one thinks of this until it finally dawns on some dim bulb bad guys that they could pressure Zoey through her mom. Sheesh. They are all blockheads.
The bad guys trick themselves out with absurd, over the top technology, which gives them super villain powers. Worse, they act and talk like Internet trolls—except that they really can and do blow things up and kill a lot of people, just to show their own power. The “good guys” aren’t all that different, except Zoey.
Whatever point Wong might have meant to make, this stuff gets old fast. Pages and pages of extremely obnoxious “dialog” (mostly monolog), interspersed with torture, violence, and cruel destruction is hard to read. I think the story could have been told without so much detailed attention to this junk.
I particularly did not enjoy the graphic (yet unrealistic) depictions of torture. Even it you think this is justified by the story (which is arguable), why does it need to be depicted so obsessively and in such detail? Wong is a good enough writer that he surely could have portrayed the danger and horror in a less fetishistic way.
Which leaves the question of what Wong was trying to do. He writes well, and portrays his fantasy world well. Yet his plot is dumb, and the people dumber. And he lavishes far too much attention to cruelty and violence. Why? Is this supposed to be amusing? Tintilating? Are we supposed to “learn” that trollery is wicked? Are we supposed to gear up and become “good” super heroes?
You got me.
Maybe there is no deeper idea, maybe Wong just likes this kind of story. Just like a bad video game, really.
I can’t really recommend this book.
- David Wong, Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, New York, St. Martins’s Press, 2015.
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