There's something about being ballsy enough to claim your first novel follows in the footsteps of A Clockwork Orange and 1984. It's a big claim to make and more important than anything else you do is to be bloody right about it. Mark Wernham wasn't right when he made that claim about his debut Martin Martin's on the Other Side. He's taken elements from all the dystopian classics, added a supremely stupid main character and created a novel that is poorly written, totally unbelievable and completely irritating. What's worse, this novel has the intelligence sucking properties of a black hole, an intellectual vacuum from which nothing can escape.
To cut a 300 page story short - it is the "not too distant future", Jensen Interceptor is a spy for the government. He's also an idiot. Jensen starts spying on a gang of zealots that believe a TV psychic from 40 years ago, Martin Martin, is actually God and will return to overthrow the oppressive government. Along the way he meets Martin Martin, or at least the spirit of a long dead soldier from WW2 who is inhabiting Martin Martin's dead body who tells him the government has planted a chip in his brain. I don't want to point out the obvious so early but a government that gets its information from studying the brain of a teenage moron should seriously rethink the quality of the information it's looking for.
Anyway, Jensen travels through time, vomits a lot, gets blown up, falls from a building, somehow gets laid, then everything goes back to normal. It is a clumsy rip off of all the other versions that have come before it. And I hate to point out the obvious about this male wank-fest but the only role women play in the novel is something to have sex with. Which I suppose puts Wernham's novel in good company but isn't appreciated nonetheless.
I enjoyed A Clockwork Orange. I enjoyed that although the main character was a violent thug, somehow he was constructed so we'd empathise with him. His dialect was a complex one and it remained consistent throughout the novel. I also enjoyed A Brave New World for its ability to tell a story so horrific in the most simplistic way imaginable. The language of both these novels embodied the stories they were telling, Clockwork was a world in which brutality was no less horrific for its various guises, New World was a world that embraced an infantile simplicity as a means of control.
Mark Wernham seems to have taken elements of both of these novels and completely misused them. In his vision of the "not too distant future" his main character is not a violent thug like Clockwork's Alex but is just purely mindless. Jensen lives in a hedonistic, misogynistic society that prizes drugs, orgies, porn, monster trucks and the status quo. He too narrates in his own individual style. But his style is what you'd hear in your average upper school classroom: "I was totally like fucking freaked out, you know?". That's not an edgy new voice, it's just irritating especially since Wernham is so conscious of using it. Take for example, this piece of wisdom:
"I start to get the feeling again. Not the scrapey achy-breaky feeling from all the violence that has been done to my bod thanks to the old death plunge on to the roof of the Old Bank, although that's there, right enough; and not the pukey yag-up feeling, although there's plenty of that too. No it's the swimmy feeling in the head that comes as the scenery's changing or someone dead's about to pop up and start chit-chatting with me. It's like when I talked to the lush caff lady and I Saw her story and how the gov fucked her lover over, shot him in his head - it's that feeling."
The most annoying thing about it is that he isn't even consistent. In one of the most action packed parts of this tiresome and boring novel Wernham's has his main character drop his manner of speech just for convenience. I suppose Jensen's colloquial style was an effort to have him appeal to our sense of humour but he's so stupid you really just want to smack him in the face with a rock and be done with it. No matter how vile the world you're portraying is, unless there's something redeeming in the characters why would we care what happens to them? As Jensen would say "just fucking fuck it".
About a quarter through the novel I started to consider the possibility that this was a book designed for the lowest Year 10 English class that the teachers need to offer something with spies and explosions to if they hope to get the kids to read it. But there's too much swearing for upper school and too much juvenile humour for just about anyone so what Wernham's intention was other than ripping off past greats is beyond me. The most horrific thing is that one day someone might make a movie out of it. God help us.
In short not only do I regret spending the $32 to actually own this hideous appropriation of the English language but I hate that I also wasted a large chunk of my weekend having my intelligence insulted by it. I took a punt on a book with a ridiculous title and I'm paying the price. Don't you get caught in the same trap. Not that I'm into mind control or oppression but I sincerely recommend should you come across this book in the wild you hold a ritualistic book burning rather than actually open it. Society needs to be protected.
Post script: If anyone does want to read the novel, either out of morbid curiosity or to establish exactly how full of shit I am, I have a copy. Please, feel free to take it off my hands.