Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Paperback, 346 pages

Published January 2005 by The Overlook Press (first published 1968)

Literary Awards:Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1970)

Norman Spinrad is one of my favorite classic Science Fiction authors. Since his first novel in the mid-sixties Agent of Chaos NS has been a force of political fiction. While Leguin and Octavia Butler have been darlings of radical sci-fi readers Spinrad is just as vocal a voice in genre fiction for anarchist ideals. He has written several political sci-fi classics such as the Iron Dream, and Greenhouse Summer that was way ahead of Al Gore on Global warming. All that being said his most notorious political novel was his fifth to be released.

Spinrad's fifth novel novel Bug Jack Barron caused quite a upon it's release in 1968, and I decided to read it at this point because I heard a few people and the author itself mention the novel as has having weird similarities to our current president elect. That is why I decided this was the time to check it out.

The title is for a TV show hosted by a man we would now look at as a comically twisted cross of Jerry Springer and Donald Trump. Who by the way a desperate republican party begs to run for president. This reality TV star doesn't want to win but thinks it will be great for his brand.

Check out some quotes from this book:

"We can do with you what we did with Regan, and do it in spades, using the programme, and by the time your nominated you already have a bigger possible following than any possible democratic candidate." (p.61)

"I end up running against some obvious Howard stooge and everyone is stoned on election day, so I win. What then? I don't know shit from shinola about being president and what's more I've got no eyes to learn it." (p.107)

BJB is a very dated and old school political satire that contains more science Fiction elements in it's second half. I mean the novel is more that 40 years old so that is to be expected. I love old school out of date Sci-fi I am all for it. The biggest way that the novel shows it's age is the inherit sexism, and paper thin female characters. Some of this is important in the sense that this novel that takes place in the future but puts a mirror on the era it was written in.

The last act of the novel takes a super bizarro turn. Jack's political target is the man behind a compnay that freezes humans in cryo-stasis and extends their lives with immortality treatments. Once we find the reality behind wretched method that the company uses to extend life the political showdown is set-up.

I like how the novel started, the elements of the first 2/3 are focused on the media manipulation and several decades ahead of it's time. Sure the term Reality TV didn't exist and the instead of twitter we have vidphone interaction, but BJB is closer to reflected our present than many novels of the era. Yes a few of the elements are so much like Donald Trump's election that is creepy, but the novel doesn't hang on to those themes. Once we get into the immortality issues I was not enjoying the novel as much.

Even though this is considered one of his best most important novels I would put it behind even the the earlier Men in Jungle which is a gonzo take on the Vietnam war. Reading Spinrad is never a bad idea. Worth checking out!

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