Sunday, April 10, 2011

Steve Aylett's Accomplice (Part One)

    I should know better than to do a whole omnibus at once. So I'm doing general impressions for the books based on what I've read, and I'll either continue this next week, or some other time. On another note...should I space these out? Perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew with this one book a week schedule? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

"Walking out with the awkwardness of a rod-puppet, he felt like a man leaving a bank with a bar of gold in his pants."

         It's already well-documented that I'm a fan of Steve Aylett. Slaughtermatic is a fun deconstruction of the cyberpunk genre where the crime actually undoes the plot instead of the reaction to the crime, Lint is one of my favorite books of all time, and the other works of his I've read range from merely okay to mind-blowingly fantastic. And then there's Accomplice. Oh, god, there's Accomplice. I actually found this when looking for an image to put up for the Lint review and ordered it with some birthday money from Amazon. So far, about halfway through, I am not quite disappointed, but I am sure that I won't be able to recommend this to anyone. Also, I'm positive that Lint was Aylett's response to critics of Accomplice, a sort of twisted self-parody with an expy of himself as the lead.
        Accomplice is not a sane book. It does not work in sane circles, nor should it. Accomplice is, in fact, so gibberingly mad that it pretty much guarantees its own hilarity, provided that you're accepting enough of its madness. I understand this will not be for everyone. I understand that many may not find this book humorous, or assume it's just being (*shudder*) "weird for weirdness's sake" or something equally as shrill and odious. However! This is a brilliant book, an almost completely successful attempt to write something new. Whether it succeeds or not is up for grabs, but hell, at least it tries to go all the way, instead of sticking in "safe" waters like every other book of its type. While that can be said of most bizarro, Aylett's manner of making everything so commonplace and non-threatening even in the most grotesque of circumstances gives him an edge that many of the others in his field don't have.And it works, in its own unsettling, twisted way.
        Only an Alligator tells the story of Barny Juno, a mild-mannered animal collector who is of no threat to anyone. One day, while going through a "creepchannel", a sort of shortcut that heads through the kingdom of demons beneath the island city of Accomplice, Barny finds an alligator. Completely ignorant to the fact that picking up reptiles from ethereal channels to netherworldly areas is a bad thing, Barny names the alligator "Mr. Newton" and takes it to his house, which doubles as an animal sanctuary containing mascara-wearing dogs and a fluctuating number of eels. What he doesn't know is that his "rescue" of the alligator has deprived the king of the demons, a large white cockroach named Sweeney, of a very important meal-- the alligator has picked up all kinds of information, and was destined to be Sweeney's dinner until it was stolen. Sweeney launches a campaign of blackmail and assassination (both character and otherwise) to bring Barny down and recover the alligator before anyone can learn anything from it, utilizing the Mayor's office, and both the incumbent and challenging mayoral candidates. Barny is suddenly the target of a great deal of demonic attention, smear campaigns, and other equally ludicrous events, all of which he is completely oblivious to and tries tirelessly to ignore when he can notice them.
         That I was able to type the last paragraph with a straight face and absolutely no hint of irony or "what the hell did I just write?" is a testament to Accomplice's power, but it's more than just insane set pieces and crazy names. The last sentence is completely accurate-- Barny has no idea he's been targeted by demons until the last third of the book, and proceeds mainly to ignore most of the attention directed his way. The machinations fail completely without his input one way or the other. This makes it unique in another way-- usually, the hero would be either directly responsible, or there would be a team of people around him, fighting to keep things ordinary. Instead, the only one who realizes anything is going on is Barny's best friend, Edgy. And when he reveals that demons are after Barny for his alligator (shortly after punching out all of King Sweeney's teeth in a vicious beatdown that comes almost out of nowhere), no one really cares. They go back to arguing about dinner and the alligator is eventually dealt with in the most innocuous way possible. 
        Which is not to say that any of it is boring. Aylett's vivid imagination keeps it far from that, be it the odd traditions of Accomplice, or the massive and expensive smear campaign against a complete nobody who has no idea what's going on. The book is also gruesomely violent, from the opening that talks of Sweeney dragging a philosopher down to the netherworld and eating his brains while he continues to spout nonsense, to Edgy's backalley brawl, to Barny's unsettling habit of eating baby trolls when he gets nervous. The characters all feel like real people and real friends, too-- they have their own nicknames for each other, help each other with ridiculous schemes, and have long, protracted dinners and conversations with each other. You could know these people, if their circumstances weren't so ridiculously twisted by the place they live in.
        At the same time, though, they're just as insane as their circumstances. GI Bill, one of the characters, spends his time engaged in a blood feud with Barny's sidekick Gregor over Gregor being stuck in a dinosaur during a ball game. Sweeney uses all his influence to smack around a person who doesn't even care if he exists. The challenger to the incumbent mayor is referred to as "doomed Eddie Gallo" and has to give speeches in a torture device. That Aylett makes this relatable and amusing just helps push the book over the edge for me. You come to accept what Accomplice throws at you, and unlike Private Midnight, it doesn't do it to shock you all the more, it does it so you can understand the motivations of the characters and the plots that wind up in play. It does it so you can get Accomplice and all its myriad nuttiness. 
         The book, as you may have noticed, is a dense thing, though, filled with bizarre turns of phrase, irrational characters, and plots that end up going somewhere, though that isn't usually the intended consequence. It's not without its bad points...the plot is heavily involved and dense, but completely inconsequential in places. Everything is handled with the same nonchalance. And overall, the book is barely comprehensible at best.
        But in the end, it's fascinating, though inaccessible. The set pieces are hilarious, and the strange syntax makes even the smallest and most inconsequential sentence suddenly very descriptive. While I can't recommend it to anyone in particular (okay, if you liked Lint, you can probably attempt Accomplice with a degree of ease), it's an essential book to me, one that should be read and, in an era of imitations, possibly be followed to help make something new, something more interesting. Read this book. It'll twist your head into all kinds of interesting shapes and hopefully make you laugh at the same time.

Next Week: Either more impressions of Accomplice, or The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway.

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