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Thursday, August 02, 2007

 

Duck and Cover Redux

A review by Glynn Compton Harper
of
The Oblivion Society
By Marcus Alexander Hart
An Outpost 132 Book, 2006, 363 Pages

This is not an easy book to get “into,” especially for someone who’s not a great fan of science fiction or science fantasy or end of the world books, or whatever genre The Oblivion Society belongs to. The characters, although very well-described and believable, are certainly not “heroes:” a minimum-wage shelf shocker at a run down grocery store, her brother, an obese TV and junk food addict, his friend, a nerdy geek, a skinny Goth woman whose only concern is maintaining a steady supply of drugs and alcohol, and a sex and self-obsessed frat boy. They are cynical, burned out with life, and, well, pretty hopeless. Wow! No heroes here! From the very first page, however, I was hooked, but not because of the story or the setting or even a certain degree of suspense; there is not much of these at the beginning. What hooked me was the quality of the writing and the ability of the author to tease me on from one page to the next. What also hooked me was the real mystery for a reviewer: “What the hell is this book about?” And I had to read on and finish the story to find out that there is a real story here. Literature? That’s a hard label to justify, but I think so.

For one thing, the book is a virtual glossary of the icons of western civilization. The characters speak a patois of cultural symbols and references that, although the words are natural enough coming out of the characters’ mouths, the patois provides clues that the book is about much more than the plot, or the horror, or the blood, or the strange goings on with mutants and marauding, cross-species DNA infections.

The story itself reveals a bizarre DNA of its own. To name just a few that lurk around among its ancestors are The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy and her mis-fit companions), Gulliver’s Travels, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Robinson Crusoe, Spider Man, Wonder Woman, The Hulk, The Fly, The Frankenstein Monster, The Addams Family, and The Wolfman. Although Hart never actually crosses the line into parody, he certainly skates close to it.

So what is the story about? Like many of its ancestors such as, The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s search for the Emerald City, it is a book about self discovery and self respect. For the characters, it is very much a “Marine Boot Camp of the soul.”

One is aware early on that the world is about to come to an end, or at least civilization was doomed by a nuclear holocaust. Now this reviewer grew up in the fifties and sixties, during the days of “duck and cover” when a nuclear attack was a ever present danger. Today, of course the major fear is from terrorists–who may or may not also present the threat of a nuclear catastrophe.

In those duck-and-cover days the world was a very different place from the world of The Oblivion Society. Young people were (mostly) clean-cut, morally straight (at least were supposed to be,) patriotic, and trusted their government. People still believed in and practiced bravery, loyalty, sobriety, shined shoes, and pressed trousers (for guys) and minimal visible cleavage (for gals.) Underlying the self image of young people in those days was hope and faith in the future. Not so in The Oblivion Society. In fact, the world Hart writes about is essentially the opposite. If the world of the fifties and sixties was worth saving, Hart’s world of 1999 scarcely seems to be.

By the end of the book, however, their travels, trials and tribulations bring the surviving characters to an Emerald City of their own. They arrive there riding in a shiny, restored 1953 Cadillac, a symbol of what they have become. Like the Cadillac, they have been "restored" (at least the ones that survived) from cynical, unkept, flotsam and jetsam–the dregs of a burned out society with neither faith nor hope. Their journey has made them better, stronger human beings. They are now human in a way that they were not at the beginning of the story. They have survived and are undefeated. They are now Self-sacrificing, altruistic people of faith and hope.

I’m glad Marcus Alexander Hart wrote this story. I’m glad that someone still writes books that champion the finer qualities of being human, even if he spills a lot of blood and guts in doing so. Order it here from Amazon.com by clicking on the link below.


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