Saturday, 7 July 2012

Review - Abattoir Jack by Christopher Neilan

You’ve probably never heard of this book so I’ll borrow a quick summary from the blurb at the back…

At the age of 22, Jack is going nowhere. Stuck in a New Mexico backwater, slicing dead cattle for a living, he is ready to seize any opportunity to make something of his life. So when his workmate Ed tells him about the $25,000 stashed in a bus station locker in San Francisco, and when he meets and falls for the beautiful De S'anna, a sweet Italian supernova of sweat and lips and purple-black hair, the two events propel him into a journey of love, drugs, madness and determination as he tries to make real those two seductive mirages, the accidental fortune and the perfect love.

Abattoir Jack came out in 2010 on the same publisher as my own novel English Slacker (Punked Books). In fact, it was the main reason why I was drawn to this publisher in the first place.

It’s quite a short book, beginning with an absolutely awesome piece of writing about working in a meat cutting factory in the New Mexico desert (“just one dusty road leading back to the little spithole row of houses and bars”), living in a motel and wasting day after day, mostly by getting through a fair amount of vodka. The writing is stylistic and original. Christopher Neilan was barely in his twenties when he wrote this, but he shows the skill and maturity that a lot of older authors would kill for.

Then, suddenly the girl De S'anna enters the scene and it all turns at little too much like On the Road meets Natural Born Killers meets Thelma and Louise. It’s as if Neilan is trying too hard to fit in his favourite influences rather than relying on his own original ideas. Finally in the last third of the book, certain events cause the protagonist to turn melancholy and what we get is Raymond Chandler on acid, speed, coke, or all three.

For me this book showed a lot of promise but by the end of it I was thus, slightly disappointed with how it turned out. However, I would still highly recommend it as being an exciting and quite a unique read as a whole.

Frustratingly, like all the books in these indie reviews, it’s not likely you’ll see it on the shelf in your local bookshop. (Although it’s easy enough to order.) Also frustratingly, Neilan has so far yet to provide us with another novel to get our teeth into. A shame, since this debut shows a lot of potential.

(If you’d like to read an interview with Neilan see the interviews page at the top of the screen)

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Story 16 - Stupid Robot

Stupid bloody robot’s being slow again. Useless piece of crap. I give it one simple request. Fetch me an apple from the fridge and the thing’s meandering around the house like a crazed old woman who’s forgotten what day it is and what planet she’s on.

Finally after ten minutes the piece of junk comes back to me, settles down on the floor, closes its eyes and is motionless. Just sitting there, doing nothing; an idiotically satisfied smile across its stupid robot face.

I feel another good kick coming on, but with the state it’s in, I’d only make things worse. So I settle on shouting:

“439! 439!”

Its eyes open while an ugly metal head turns lazily towards me. “Yeeees Maaaassst-t-t-t-t-ttter.” (The thing can’t even speak properly anymore).

“Get up, go to the kitchen, bring back a bleeding apple… and if you can’t get it right this time, God help me I’ll be using your body parts for rocket fuel!”


Its fuzzy orange eyes are flickering. As though what I’ve commanded is beyond its pathetic capabilities.

I just want an apple. Not asking much. A frigging apple for God’s sake; can you imagine a simpler task? With anyone else’s robot this would take a matter of seconds.

It gets up, sits down, then gets up again.

“You req-q-q-uire foood-d-d-d Maaaassst-t-t-t-t-ttter?”

There’s only one thing to do when it gets like this. I reach for the off switch at the bottom of its robot spine and watch as it crumples to the floor, a worthless metallic heap of body parts. They’d laugh at me if I took it to the repair shop. Stress that the only option is to buy a new one. As if I’m made of money, right? All these people with their fancy new gadgets.

I switch it back on and immediately it stands erect.

“Hello Master. How are you today?”

“Never mind how I am. Get me an apple from the kitchen before I kick your robot hide into the nearest black hole.”

Rather than showing any sign of fear, it smiles sympathetically. (As though I’m the one with the bloody problem.)

“Anything else while I’m there Master?”

“An apple! An apple! You know what an apple is you poor excuse for a cybernetic life form! Long, slightly curved. You peel it and eat the inside. They’re green when you pick them and yellow when ripe. You understand yet? An apple, and while you’re there get me a plate of ice-cream.”

“Processing your request sir.”

This is so frustrating. Oh for the simple life when such devices weren’t relied upon. When I could and was willing to do things for myself. (What the hell has happened to me?)

“I’m sorry Master. There seems to be an error with the command you gave me. Would you like to try again or request an alternative action?”

“I’ll give you an alternative action, you…”