Saturday, 10 August 2013

Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human

Neil Gaiman meets Tarantino in this madcap, wildly entertaining journey into Cape Town's supernatural underworld.


Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.

But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.

Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.
 Publisher's description
Okay, let's get something out of the way. This book is not magic realism, but hey it's great fun. The book starts very realistically, but once it enters the alternative world it stays there. I can see why the comparison has been made between the author and Neil Gaiman. Gaiman's books are at the far edge of magic realism, where magic realism and fantasy overlap. Both authors have a strain of humour which runs through their books. Charlie Human has some wonderful one-liners: Magic is S&M without a safe-word  and  His face has the texture of an old loofah.  Like Gaiman and Tarantino, Charlie Human plays with different genres and their cliches: you will find zombies, South African mythic creatures, kung-fu dwarfs, hard-bitten detectives, and giant mechanical beasts in this novel.

This book will appeal to teenage boys who don't read books and adults who do. It is fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny and the hero and narrator is himself a teenage schoolboy, one who runs a school gang which operates a porn business. He sees himself as a logical, clinical, businessman... that creates plans, devises schemes and shifts pawns around like Kasparov. This me would drink neat vodka while stealing candy from babies and life savings from old people.  But during the course of the book he discovers that he has feelings: This is a me that feels. Gross, I know. This dual nature is explained later in the book.

Baxter's voice is brilliant. It rings true as that of a very bright teenage boy, whilst at the same time referencing literary influences. Baxter's commentary, with its irony and awareness, also helps keep the book from being overwhelmed by weirdness.

I gather that Charlie Human is one of a new generation of speculative fiction writers coming out of South Africa. This is his debut novel and a very impressive one at that.

This book was given to me by the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review. 

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