Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: Transmaniacon by John Shirley


Transmanicon By John Shirley
271 pages
Out of print (1978)

There is no writer working today in both horror and Science Fiction whose body of work I enjoy more than the work of John Shirley. While he doesn't get the credit he often deserves and i know I have said this over and over. He was cyberpunk before there was a name, he was splatterpunk before there was name. His early ground breaking work with City come a Walking in Science Fiction and Cellars in horror fiction is known with the serious fans of the genres. This debut Science Fiction novel which was written after but published before his early horror novel Dracula in Love.

Transmaniacon is super nutso off the wall original work of pre-cyberpunk science fiction that is like no other book I can think of. It is also a great work out-of -date old school science fiction.The plot centers on "The barrier" a huge shield erected as a nuclear defense over the united states in 1989. This book takes place in 22 century two hundred years after a nuclear conflict devastates the world outside the barrier. The U.S. has broken up into several city states that are each very different and all of them are at war with at least one other city. Beyond the barrier is a mystery, is nature claiming the earth, has chaos taken over?

The main character Ben Rackey moves pretty freely working as a professional instigator for corporations and states that pay him. Ben is is hired to steal a device, the "Exciter" which can be used to direct individuals and crowds by enhancing their strong emotions of anger, saddness etc. Ben sees this device as the keep to accomplish his lifetime goal to bring down the barrier.

Ben Steals the exciter and thus begins an adventure across the weird landscape of the united states under the barrier. The level of strange environments and original creations range from the disturbing to the hilarious. The tone shifts dark socially political themes to almost Douglas Adams-ish humor.

Some of the things you'll find in this novel include Fly and owl shaped -nul grav cars, Dolphin pilots who lead blood cults, fist fights with conjoined octuplets, two century old frozen biker gangs, Musac used as a sedative, motor controlled mindless slaves, brainwashed mercenaries, and my personal favorite - the flesh tractors which are genetically engineered giant hands that are used as beasts of burdens.

There is more, much more. Transmaniacon is early work and does not show the mastery of of political allegory that Shirley became. There is alot being said here, I took from it a subtle message of the negatives of US isolationism. A basic statement against the status quo most of all it is an excellent and imaginative piece of speculative fiction.  

2 comments:

Mr. Goldblog said...

I didn't realise that John's book influenced Judas Priest. That's fantastic! And the lead solo on that clip is awesome!

Jess Gulbranson said...

Transmaniacon is out of print? I hope I still have it then... it may have been lost in one of the great pre-divorce book purges. Oh well, that just means someone got to buy it at Powell's.