Filler content with velocity

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #31:-

THE VELOCITY GOSPEL
Steve Aylett
Gollancz pb, 131pp, £9.99

This slim volume is billed as ‘Accomplice Book 2’, Accomplice being the name of the city in which the action takes place, so it’s a series then and yes there’s a map inside the front cover, showing that even avant-garde writers such as Aylett must sometimes conform to genre conventions. Of course the packaging could simply be artifice, an ironic commentary on said conventions, but if so then I’m not particularly amused as the end result, assuming it only goes to trilogy length and the third volume has a commensurate page count, is that the reader pays £30 for a 400pp paperback. The fact that some of the text satirises marketing and vile commercial opportunists only rubs salt in the wound.

The book’s hero is Barny Juno, a Walter Mitty in reverse, who’s desperately trying to pass himself off as an ordinary guy so current squeeze Magenta Blaze, who likes a man of action, will take a hike and free up Barny to be with the woman he truly loves, Chloe Low, but reality is working from a different script. Poor Barny keeps getting into scrapes. His enemy the demon Sweeney sicks underling Skittermite onto him, which makes for all sorts of complications. Then there’s Mayor Rudloe, who invents Cyril, Public Enemy No. 1, to coerce Accomplice’s citizens into donating blood for his Conglomerate masters, only to have this figment of his imagination come to life, a transformation in which Barny plays an unwitting part. Add to that the Fuseheads, with their Velocity Gospel, a cult who believe the way to salvation is to be fired from a cannon, or something equally silly. And let’s not forget the Dangerous Reptiles Competition, which… No, on second thoughts, let’s forget it.

There’s not a lot I can add to Andrew Hook’s comments on Book 1 in an earlier TTA. Aylett dishes up some bravissimo invention and wordplay, but also inflicts a lot of nonsense on the reader, material that is absurdist per se. Despite the primacy suggested by the title the Fuseheads are only a sideshow in a book that’s all sideshow, hung together on a tenuous narrative thread. The best I can do by way of offering comparison is to name drop something like Monty Python and The Holy Grail; there’s the same mix of inspired lunacy on the one hand, and on the other moments when the writer tries just too hard for off the wall effects, and we end up not laughing but wondering what’s on the TV. The excuse for much of the absurdity is that it’s satire of the kind of nonsense talked by politicians and religious fanatics, but this is an area in which reality trumps fiction nearly every time. Aylett tries hard but what’s on the page pales when set beside such real life exemplars as Paxman trying to get a straight answer out of Tory leader Michael Howard or the comet cultists committing mass suicide.

Yes, I enjoyed it, but not very much and with qualifications. I’m mildly intrigued to know how it all turns out but think I’ll wait until Fantasy Masterworks, or someone else, decides to call it a classic and publish the whole series in one reasonably priced volume, which, given the way that classic status has been devalued by marketing hype, in the case of Accomplice should be about five minutes after Aylett finishes writing it.

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