Friday, 22 January 2016


(January 2016)

Jackson! Hunt! Sixkiller! The adventures of our improbably monikered cyber-mystic park rangers continue apace, and I for one couldn’t be happier. 

This is due in no small part to the introduction of a character called Oceane Orlean, which raises the rhyming and assonance categories of the stupid-name stakes to frankly unsurpassable levels. (I will, however, always reserve a special place in my heart for Bull Hunt, which sounds like nothing so much as the noises made by a fat man having a disappointing orgasm.)

Some plot summary to be going on with. Virgin Jackson (ooooooh!) is a park ranger for the last remaining patch of wilderness in a mid-future Australia otherwise entirely covered by mega-city urban sprawl. At the end of Peacemaker she survived an attempt on her life by some mystical apparitions seemingly intent on using the park for their own nefarious ends, thanks to the intervention of a shadowy international intelligence agency coincidentally run by her estranged mother. In the aftermath of this she finds herself seconded to said agency, which goes by the frankly unpronounceable acronym of GJIC, and in tandem with her partner, Nate Sixkiller (he of the infamously random accent orthography), must investigate the equally shadowy Mythos, which is something to do with myths come to life and there’s some horses and some ‘advanced’ technology very much like smartphones and some sort of family legacy and it’s all very silly and inane and yet somehow oddly readable.

The exposition is so brutally and artlessly direct it’s almost charming and the characterization, especially of the protagonist, is ridiculous. Virgin is a walking bad decision-factory. She’s relentlessly stubborn (matched only by the relentlessness of her need to remind us how stubborn she is) and seems incapable of making reasonable choices. There are a number of exchanges which go almost blow-for-blow like this:

Character A:       Here’s a problem, Virgin.
Character B:       Here’s a solution to that problem, Virgin. I can do it easily. It is certain to succeed and involves no risk to anyone.
Character A:       Yes. That is a very good solution, Virgin. You should let Character B do it.
Virgin:                 No! I am stubborn. I must do it.
Character B:       But you have no expertise in this area, Virgin. Your involvement would be needlessly dangerous and make the plan more likely to fail.
Virgin:                 But I am stubborn.
Character A:       Listen to Character B, Virgin.
Virgin                  But I am stubborn. I am also the sole PoV character in a first-person narrative, so if you don’t let me do it you might as well not have bothered.
Character B:       Fuck it. Fine. Do what you like.
Virgin:                 Stubborn.

The phrase “Mary Sue”—used to describe an unrealistically perfect character—is currently getting a lot of traction in the SFF cybersphere for reasons that are far too tedious to go into here, but it does make me wonder what the opposite of a Mary Sue is. It’s not even the opposite, really: Virgin’s flaws, however broadly drawn, do actually serve to make her more interesting as a character and mean she definitely isn’t a MS, but every. other. character. in the book is infallibly hyper-competent. Virgin is thus the only significant character who isn’t Mary Sue-ish, She’s an island of ineptitude floating in a sea of proficiency, so for all her pig-headed blundering there’s never any doubt that one of her mates won’t be there to pull her fat out of the fire. Deus ex Maria, if you like.

This does, of course, serve to keep the plot moving and puts her in all sorts of ‘interesting’ positions, but the degree to which Virgin makes endlessly shitty decisions (decisions which are manifestly shitty even to her) just for the sake of appeasing her own stubbornness leads you to the inescapable conclusion that in the world of Mythmaker, “stubbornness” is essentially a synonym for “authorial fiat”; it’s like de Pierres read Vonnegut’s advice to “make awful things happen” to the lead character and thought, “Hey! What if the lead character was the one making awful thing happen?”

Into this heady mix of transparent storytelling and blunt characterization we must also add an eye for the descriptive which we could generously call ‘idiosyncratic’, viz:

“Armand Dusan was tall and thin with medium colouring.” (p. 46)

By which I believe she means he looks like a steak.

Gyah. I should stop now. Because what’s left after we’ve finished poking fun at all the rest of it is plot and pacing, and while the plot is no less ridiculous than anything else in the book the pacing is superbly handled: a hyperkinetic whirl in which even the flagrant info-dump “Have the Protagonist Sit Down and Review the Key Plot-Points with Their Best Friend to Make Sure the Reader is Keeping Up” chapters are expertly positioned to let you catch your breath before the next onslaught. This is not a book written to be over-analysed or explore the deepest depths of the human condition. This is pulp, and as pulp it does its job brilliantly. Can’t say fairer than that, really.

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