Saturday, 20 September 2014

Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

One of the most uncompromising adult science-fiction novels ever written. Its a new kind of SF novel. Vivid suspenseful, brutal and erotic, it has been condemned as 'depraved' and hailed as a masterpiece. The reader must make up his own mind...
Bug Jack Barron is a political sci-fi novel written in the style of beat poetry. Politics and death are main themes of the book but because of it's political tone it's able to touch on issues like race, poverty, murder, scientific experimentation and greed.

My first impression of the book (which I've talked about in a previous blog) was how strange the language was. It was written in 1969 and you can tell - it keeps with all of the tropes of the 60s - marijuana, acid, Tim Leary and the beat language all resonate throughout the book as well as heaps of references to presidents and race discrimination.

The main character and our hero, the forever suave and smart Jack Barron hosts the most popular TV show (Wednesday nights 8.00EST) called Bug Jack Barron. His hundred million viewers can call up and talk about what's bugging them and good ol' Jack will help them out by getting the big guns on the air live. What's super awesome though is the way the author feeds us straight into Jacks head. He does the same with the girl of the book Sara. You can totally tell that this guy has tripped acid (or could be tripping while literally writing the book) because of the way he lets sentences flow but also by the way he is able to show us the true intentions of the characters without it feeling contrived.

I'm not sure anyone who hasn't read any Jack Kerouac would like this book. The writing at times is like poetry and you have to follow the flow and rhythm to decipher exactly what he means. This sucked me in at the beginning because it was so interesting but by the end it was totally normal and added to the story (although I did start skimming some paragraphs that were labouring the point).

The main deal of the book revolves around a Freezer Foundation that, for $50,000, will freeze you when you time and unfreeze you when the scientists have worked out a way to cure you. Benedict Howards is the head of the Foundation and he is a total slime-ball power-hungry creep. He tries to recruit Jack and their little battle of the mega-power-minds is the cause of the entire book so I won't spoil it. Another reason why this book keeps so close to the tropes of the 60s - everyone is afraid of death and wants to keep living - a total acid-buddhist concept from the times.

The book was good fun to read but I think the author thinks he's smarter than he is. As soon as characters or plot lines were introduced I could tell exactly what was going to happen and I only kept reading to see how our hero Jack dealt with it. There are some cool scifi ideas in it (Jack has this crazy cool pad with kinesthope patterns (that mess with your brain/perception) and cool little gadgets) but it's nothing radical and a whole lot less than anything you'd find in any Isaax Asimov novel.

To be honest though I picked this up at a Lifeline Book Fair simply because of it's cover so I'm not sure how readily available it is in book stores or online. It was a fun experiment in picking up a random book and giving it a go and getting to the end. I've never really read a book that I didn't like, because, like, who the fuck has that time, but I think I will in the future because picking apart a book or author or voice you think is bad or boring or weird is pretty fun...

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