This review originally appeared in The Third Alternative #41:-
APOCALYPSE NOW, VOYAGER by JAY RUSSELL
Earthling Publications pb, 86pp, $14
This attractively packaged novella from Earthling Publications (produced in a limited and numbered edition, signed by the author) conflates both title and plot of two classic films, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and the less well known Now, Voyager, a tearjerker from the 1940s starring Bette Davis. The film references are a hallmark of Russell’s stories featuring Marty Burns, former child star and sometime detective, a man with a knack for getting into the kind of trouble where logic and the laws of physics don’t carry much weight. Here Marty is playing the role of Captain Willard, off on his very own journey into the heart of darkness, with the lesser known regions of LA offering a landscape every bit as minatory as that of South East Asia. Knocked unconscious by a madwoman and bundled into a shopping cart with the corpse of a hooker, Marty finds himself being trundled along the Los Angeles River, which isn’t a river as such but a giant drainage channel running through the centre of the city (I believe Arnie drove his bike down it in Terminator 2). Along the way he meets up with various oddballs, including a gang of skateboarders and a former associate who’s decided that life as part of a man-dog tribe is far more agreeable (for one, the sex is much better), culminating in an encounter with a shaman and trip to another dimension where everything gets put right and the power of love conquers all, or something like that.
For all its brevity this is a book that packs a considerable punch. Russell writes with an enviable lightness of touch, grabbing the reader’s attention from the very first line and holding it right to the end, taking us from the comparatively ordinary confines of a sleazy downtown bar to a strange other world, but first off we have to traverse an LA that’s every bit as outré and unreal as anything lurking beyond the dimensional veil. The wisecracking Marty is the ideal companion for such a trip, human enough for us to identify with and casting a jaundiced eye over the proceedings that encourages suspension of disbelief, his razor sharp wit a constant source of amusement, but undercutting it a genuine compassion and concern for his fellows that gives this latter-day Marlowe a depth belied by his sometime comic cut-out status. The larger than life characters are an added joy, from hooker Annie De Beauvoir, who’s a fool for love, through to the wonderful dog man Guy, and not forgetting mad Vibiana who makes it all happen or the magical Toypurina, a shaman who is truly one of a kind. They all intrigue and delight, making the reader want to spend even more time in their company and never doubting for a single minute that they all, every single of them, are out there somewhere, even if it’s only inside the imagination of Jay Russell. Striking artwork by J K Potter, an introduction by Paul McAuley and afterword by the author make this slim volume a real treat and, as collectables go, quite reasonably priced.