on 27 October 2000
...Steve Aylett, with 5 previous books under his belt, has a reputation for outrageousness that precedes him. 'Atom', his most recent novel, definitely lives up to expectations. The protagonist, Mr. Taffy Atom, is a private detective of an unconventional and eccentric sort with a sidekick that's even weirder: Jed Helms, who has a voraciously vicious human personality somehow grafted onto a souped-up brain in the body of a giant goldfish! The near-future setting, as in Aylett's novel 'Slaughtermatic', is the city of 'Beerlight' that 'sprawls like roadkill'. The plot, a bit thin, but then the book is only 137 pages long, takes Atom on a mission to trace a missing brain that vanished the night the City Brian Facility blew up and the grey matter that's gone is none other than that of Tony Curtis. A motley crew of bizarre gangsters will do anything to see that Atom, his gorgeous, smart and tough girlfriend Madison Drowner and Jed Helms don't succeed. Reading Aylett is not reading for depth of character, intense emotional subtlety or intricate background descriptions---rather, it's like reading a manic anime noir where the imagery dominates---stark and startling, with satirically over-the-top metaphors abounding and the pacing lightning-swift, cutting from one scene to the next almost too fast to follow. Yet the language is so clever and witty that the reader is only too happy to go along for the mad car-chase of a ride in order to encounter bits like this: "Industrial gothic was tempered by Bren Shui, the art of exchanging negative energy with the environment through the correct placement of firearms around the house." Laugh out loud moments of this sort are to be found on practically every page of 'Atom' for Aylett definitely delivers outrageousness. Everything in the book is extreme, bordering on caricature: Atom, the ultimate cynical, wise guy gumshoe; Madison, the smart-mouthed babe; Jed Helms, surreal and bizarre; Joanna, the hulking, amusingly dumb henchman, that's right, man; and then there's the fiendish mastermind behind it all, Candyman, not to mention a whole bevy of colorful supporting characters. Everyone talks in the snappy patter of the author's slangy dialog (warning---contains curse words), voices that dominate the text and propel the story. 'Atom' is wild and crazy and funny, replete with satirical allusions to much of contemporary and current pop-cultural trends---all extrapolated to the mind-stretching max. For a high energy romp, 'Atom' is hard to beat!
They say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but that is why I bought this in the first place. from the first page I was snapped along with Aylett's ferociously funny, rapid-fire style that leaves you thirsting for more.
I couldn't even begin to describe what actually happens in the story, without sounding confusing - you just have to kind of let it flap around your head and roll with it.
This might not be everyone's bag, but if you like something unhinged, funny, wierdly violent and that makes little sense sometimes then this book is for you.
on 21 February 2005
What happens when sci-fi goes wrong - Atom attempts to mask its dearth of ideas, narrative and characterisation behind tiresome fabricated, pseudo-cool language and high concept, low-brow gimmickery. Wants to fall somewhere between Phillip K. Dick and Pratchett, instead is excreted as badly written, smug pretentiousness unconvincingly feigning intelligence. The concept - sci-fi pulp-noir - could well have worked, but in execution it's a complacent failure.