Gray grabs hold of the Scottish Literary Tradition and with Science Fiction in the other hand he squashes them together. This works very well, surprisingly, and the novel still has a broad range of issues and emotions that you would expect from such a fine author. Sometimes, the novel is annoyingly clever. It is set in a future where wars are tribal and are leagued and bound by rules, although still bloodthirsty and violent. A glance in the veterans club is proof of that. There is little hope for Wat Dryhope, the novel's anti-hero, as he tries his best to stop the senseless killing. No one listens to him and those that do misinterpretate him. Even the armless, legless, eyeless veterans oppose his peaceful stance. But this book is more than just a diatribe about war. The Public Eye, which is everywhereTV, is nasty and cruel, and promotes bloodthirsty battles for their pulling power. However, declining audience numbers call for drastic measures, and they call for even more blood, for even bloodthirstier battles than the one Wat was the unwitting hero of. All in the name of family entertainment. On Wat's peace mission he meets his father, sleeps with his sister and falls foul of a sinister bitter plot to cause global disaster and give birth to a televised dark age. In this novel limbs are chopped off and people make love. Televised wars meet the Ettrick shephard, an unlikely combination it is true. Gray is a great writer and like his many other books this is very good.
I picked this up in English in my local Oxfam shop in Berlin recently and found it refreshingly written. It's a post apocalyptic futuristic book with game playing battles taking place, a lot of hacking and stabbing and a lot of "repopulation". It's hard to categorise the book, it's short, a memoir, with half the book being notes, so it's a bit of shock to realise that the story had finished. the book has some polar opposites, wholesale sword salughter being watched by floating news globes, primitive living conditions together with space travel and advanced medicine, brutality and machismo but set in what is a benevolent a matriarchy. It's very well written, tense, exciting, gripping and fun. I found it highly refreshing and although the lead character was viewed as a total oddball in that society, his viewpoint was the one I was glad to be reading it from. This is well worth a read and I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before.
I think the synopsis and the previous review have said most of what needs to be said. I shall just add my vote for this book. A humorous and creative sci fi yarn about the future. Very unusual, but a quality read, which was refreshing, and opens new horizons for literature and raises many issues about violence, sex, work, the roles of women and men, the role of the media, sporting/military psychology, sexual freedom and historical interpretation. Telling historical judgements are made. An intelligent author who seems to be able to rise above conventionality.
As Alasdair Gray isn't an Oxbridge thesaurus-junky, he will never be nominated for the booker prize, or taken as seriously as much lesser but much more celebrated talents south of the Scottish border, but this book confirms that he is one of the greatest living British writers (and I'm English by the way!).
There isn't much point in trying to describe the book - it's a relatively short novel by Gray, although the glossary at the end is almost as entertaining as the story itself. There are fewer of his wonderful illustrations but the unmistakeable touch of beguiling imagination, social and political polemic, brilliant dark humour, biting wit, and above all a lightness of touch on grand themes which not many people can pull off convincingly. I would recommend this to fans or newcomers.