Briefly: imagine the dark places in the psyche where Gibson never went, do some epic high-fantasy world-building like Tolkien but better written, use as background a collapsing city after the ruling mega corporations take off for orbit, people it with a bunch of psychopaths and sociopaths, make your readers grudgingly start to develop some slightly warm feelings for said abominations, mix in Clockwork Orange-level ultra-violence, write sustained high octane action sequences and finally give the characters all manner of ordnance, a spaceship here or there, do a rather brilliant job of subverting several sub-genres and don’t stop there, rev into the red, go to reheat, engage after-burners and blaze off into an uncertain future. There’s more but this is the short version.
Brickbats: Volume 1 has a lot of typos, Volume 2 a lot less and Volume 3 has very few. There are some annoying continuity glitches but I have to say, despite having a major aversion to typos and such, none of this seriously interfered with my enjoyment of these books.
Bottom line: this trilogy is well worth reading. Especially for less than ten quid sterling for the Kindle editions.
This is crash-bang-wallop and then some. Sustained action writing, keenly described, very well paced, most of it really edge-of-the-seat stuff, some passages reminiscent of the Ninja tour-de-force passages in Eric Van Lustbader’s first novel.
John Trevillian’s influences are legion and that is a sincere compliment. He out-Gibsons Gibson, especially in his depiction of moral depravity. The characters Jack, Pure/Susie and D’Alessandro/Glass are warp-speed versions of the me fein Thatcherite ideology which reached its apotheosis in real life over the last few years as banks collapsed and the so-called free market had to be bailed out by the lumpen proletariat. In the books, they don’t just want money, comfort and security, their motivations are considerably more complex and much less honourable.
Glass, for example, wants to be God. But even God has his limitations. The old smart-alec schoolboy question to brain-dead RE teachers; can God make a weight so heavy he can’t lift it? Uh, no, it’s not in his nature….
Jack wants to forget large segments of his life. We meet him first in a suicide squadron, about to land in a metropolis where social order is rapidly collapsing into ultra-violent chaos following the withdrawal from Earth of the mega corporations which previously ruled the whole shebang. Jack and the others are being sent to keep order but in fact no-one with any real power or knowledge of the situation expects them to succeed. It’s a facade, a brief bit of PR cover for the withdrawing corporations. A snow job. And Jack has just had someone excise large portions of his memory but spends a lot of time and effort subsequently trying to figure out why and what. Difficult cuss, isn’t he? Can’t even control his own basic motivations. And that sets the scene for the entire trilogy—Jack basically doing his own thing, mostly selfish, amoral, promiscuous and extremely violent.
There is, eventually, some sort of a nod to seeking redemption but I’m giving nothing away in that because Trevillian handles that section of Vol 3 very cleverly indeed and leaves you with several possible outcomes after the last page.
Pure/Susannah is a hard vicious killer. Her back story is of some interest but her most honourable work is as a mercenary, until she gets well into the high fantasy section of Vol 3. She probably loves Jack but even that relationship has massive ruptures along the way, including an oh-so-casual by-the-way attempt to kill him which almost succeeds and barely troubles her awareness, let alone her conscience. Speaking of which, like the others, I don’t think she has much of a conscience.
There are several other important characters. Jack’s brother intrudes more frequently as the story rolls along, clearly becoming some kind of embodiment of evil. Esther/Sister Midnight is mostly decent, or as decent as an instinctive killer can be. She bows out for a while when she gets religion, joining the God-u-likes. Jack turns up on her convent door one night in big trouble and she has to decide which way to jump. To his amazement, she removes his troubles with a M-16 and they take off together.
And the author’s most touching creation, in a book of violence and amorality, is a gene-modded dog whose specialty is cracking safes and doors, who finds a set of rollerskates and a cape in a store under fire with his master love, a young boy. He and the boy adore a TV series called Phantom the Wonder Dog and the cape/skates set is Phantom merch but the dog escapes on the skates. Henceforth he is known as Dingo The Wonder Dog.
Brief summary: The mega corporations, which run the show on Earth, decide to pull out and relocate in orbit. A lucky few employees get hired and move to artificial moons where they soon realise that life up there ain’t quite what they expected. Enter the ruling sentience, XEs, a ginormous AI which keeps it all together up there and comes up with a nice VR release for the dissatisfied, called The Forest. And things tick along nicely enough for quite some time.
Of course the corporations don’t all get along and conflict breaks out periodically.
Jack lands with the suicide squad in what quickly becomes known as Dead City (DC). The mega corps have been running everything and things rapidly fall apart after they go, leaving millions of unemployed, sick, criminal and insane folk roaming the streets of DC. Various groups coalesce into factions and try to seize power. Which tends to come from the barrel of a gun, natch. Jack survives the initial madness, puts together his gang, the A-Men, and prospers for a while.
Meanwhile D’Alessandro carries on with his mad scientist stuff, which he was doing pre-collapse, using a whale brain to run his AI sentience and the K operating system. K/OS. (Just say the letters.) Jack has a big part to play in the K/OS story. A really big part. There’s a version with a virus and somewhere another version which is virus-free. Gradually we discover that XEs needs some work and if it doesn’t get fixed, then a bunch of artificial moons won’t be up there much longer.
Enter a book of fairy stories, Jack being the author of at least part of this. Escapist literature for poor old Jack, we think at first, but somehow or other it gets to be a bit more than imaginal escape, it becomes real, to an extent. There is a lot of explication of the real/fairy interchange and it needs close attention by the reader, especially in Vol 3.
So we have a bunch of psychopaths, using and being used by each other, with motivations which are multiple and at times mysterious, cruising along in the midst of chaos. There are several fascinating secondary characters and sub-plots. We gradually get a sense of where it is all going though with some red herrings and banana skins on the way.
The author’s Vol 3 tour-de-force in fantasy land is remarkable; firstly for sustained action, pacing, characterisation and environment creation, secondly for his refusal to adhere to the usual good-vs-evil party line and the way we end up rooting for two pretty repugnant people, but most importantly he makes great use of the memes and tropes of high fantasy while sneakily exposing it as something else entirely. I won’t spoil it any more on you.
The A-Men by John Trevillian
Published by Troubador Publishing Ltd
Review by Declan Fox