Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dog Eat Dog: A Review

David J. Rodger's Dog Eat Dog  (paperback here) is a post-apocalyptic-cybepunk novel with both zombie and Cthulhu flavoring to boot.  A full force mashup novel set within the roleplaying game world of Yellow Dawn.   Within our International focus that we have been working on, we have a British author focusing (primarily) on a collapsed United States, with secondary looks at both Europe and near space settlements.

An excerpt of the first five chapters can be found here.

The story behind the photo/cover is here

David J. Rodger (1970) lives in Bristol England with his longtime girlfriend and editor.  He has worked within the IT department of a British Agency, before going to work as a project manager of a major U.K. publisher.  All of his fiction novels, although stand alone by design,  share a common universe.  He notes his influences to include  the horror of H P Lovecraft  Robert Ludlum thrillers, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Philip K Dick, William Gibson, Iain M Banks,  Richard Morgan, John Grisham rounded off with the blunt violence of James Ellroy and Andy McNab (an interview here).  That being said, this novel is specifically noted as being set within the Yellow Dawn role playing game (RPG) setting, so it is taking place 10 years after the collapse.  If his other works are apocalypses-in-progress, this work is post-apocalyptic.  I guess what ever attempts the good guys made in his earlier works to stop the bad-things from happening were not entirely successful: bummer.

Without going into to many details, after an industrial accident in near-orbit, a  deadly plague swept over the world eliminating all but the 21% of the population who were not immune to the yellow dawn plague.  Followup plagues create a rabis like desease that creates zombie-like creatures who like to bite people.  In the following anarchy, none of the nations survive.  Within the solar system, a variety of space stations, bases, and such still survive.  All that remain on Earth are a handful of holdout cities, of varying capabilities, with zombies, who tend to like urbanized areas just outside their walls, and beyond that a huge sprawling wilderness.  Here and there little settlements and groups try to pull themselves together, fighting against zombies, and brigand-lords to make the best of it.
So what does cyberpunk meets post-apocalyptia feel like?  Well we start in Southern France near Marseilles.  The leftover medieval fortifications guarding towns are useful again.  The vast majority of people are armed with various medieval style weapons: swords, clubs, crossbows, etc. That being said, there are still some pretty serious bits of firepower still out there for those with the right connections.  One of the two main characters, Carlos, is trying to get into town:

The main access point to Aigues-Mortes was the Porte de la Gardette, and suitably named, Carlos ruminated as he stood beneath the guards lookout window set above the gate. Although the main curtain wall was about eleven metres high, the guard tower in front of him must have been at least another six metres higher. The entrance was flanked by two enormous curving towers, possibly ten metres or more in diameter. The whole structure was physically imposing and generated an immediate sense of impregnability and security. As did the two surly sentries giving him a hard time about his appearance...
That surprised him. The sentries were equipped with high-quality wands. They asked him about the wetware wired inside his skull: he told them the truth, a chunk of data-storage connected to a synaptic-bridge. They asked him about the insertion-port below his ribcage. He lied, told them it was for insulin to treat his diabetes; in reality it was for reloading his gland-implant.
Then they checked for staph and other skin infections; they pointed out his tangled hair was full of lice; they didn't take his blood; they didn't take anything that could have his DNA.

Note, this section is all found in the sample noted above.

The author himself gives a synopsis of the story line in an interview about his gaming world.

A criminal thriller that charts on the collision course between two survivors – a renegade intelligence agent and a cold-blooded thug-for-hire – as they become tangled in a wider political plot for influence and control. It showcases key features of the Yellow Dawn world – the disparity between the wilderness and the Living Cities; the bleak desolation of the Dead Cities and the screaming terror of a zombie surge.
It is written in a modern noir style mixed in with a heavy dose of brutal action adventure.  Which is to say that it is entirely unsuitable for children, and would not be enjoyed by adults who are adverse to foul language and extreme violence.  The sexual language is explicit, but mostly stops short of being pornographic.

Clocking in at 547 pages in print length, it is long book.  For much of the novel I was actually thinking that I was reading an interesting set of stories in series, but much to my surprise, about 3/4 of the way through all the different strands start weaving themselves back together and it is a surprisingly tight package for covering so much ground.
Did I enjoy the novel?  Yes, very much so. I would almost say surprisingly so.  It is long, but manages to hold together its narrative thread.  It has a variety of intertwined mysteries, but if you get confused, you get second chances to pull yourself out of the weeds, having both a lot of science fictional and supernatural horror elements, it still manages to maintain a grittier realism then many less speculative tomes.  Both main characters are interesting, and you are wondering what will happen to them up to very end.  To be honest, I if this novel is indicative of the authors usual efforts, I am surprised he is not better known.  I certainly intend to look closer at his other works.

For our descriptive ratings: 1 to 7 with 7 being high.

We will have to go into a little detail with Realism.  Realism does not generally include the cause of collapse unless it has an ongoing effect on the plot line.  This may sound odd, but a lot of collapse stories are rather generic in their causal effects.  Pink monkeys, solar flares, hyperinflation, whatever, causes all hades to break loose and then we get to move on with the fun with roughing it in the wilderness, or wherever.  But zombie stories tend to have a continual effect.  The nature of zombies generally mean that they will have an oversized effect on how people act.  Since zombies aren't real (right?) they will cause a lack of realism.  Ditto for the supernatural elements - even Lovecraftian supernatural elements that come cloaked in a sci-fi explanation.  If Fed blows up the economy, and all chaos occurs, we wouldn't expect to see Cthulhu marching out the sunken depths and trotting down Main Street (right?)  Further, while we can conceive of space within the solar system and colonies orbiting around the earth, they are not part of our current life, and are not going to be part of any disaster that we face today.  Somewhat mitigating these elements is the limited impact that the supernatural, and off-world elements have on the day-to-day activities of the people. We have enough of a collapse, that the overall high tech feel is reduced.  The people living safely up in space, could be living in some untouched area in some other collapse story (Chili, Japan, wherever).  The supernatural elements are creepy, but not much creepier than people are capable of on their own. Much of it acts as just another motivating factor for mayhem.

And that's it.  It is otherwise highly realistic.  The heroes, and even the heroic villains are very deadly people.  They are dangerous.  And they still mess up all the time.  They are playing for fairly high stakes, against intelligent (mostly) people, and intelligent people won't let you win against them all the time.  The main actors worry about money, they worry about their ambitions, although both of the main actors are single men, family issues or social attachments do factor in.  The author has a very strong feel for the particulars of functionality.  For a Brit, who as understand are not allowed any weapon more dangerous than breakaway toothpicks, he is surprisingly knowledgeable about the use of firearms.  In net, Realism is a point above the mid line: a 5.
Readability is a little more straightforward.  It is an easy enough read with maybe a slight deduct for too many initials as names, and for length.  There are are a fair number of places where it is a page turner, and in only a few places gets particularly bogged down.  There are a few scenes that could afford to be trimmed, but their entertaining scenes, and arguably the length is only an issue if you were on some sort of schedule - like trying to finish up a series of reviews.  Again, one point above the mid line:  a 5.

Our author, David J Rodger, at the apartment building where H.P. Lovecraft wrote The Horror At Red Hook (from here).


David P. King said...

Wow! I don't think I've ever heard of a mash-up with so many flavors in it. Appreciate your review, Russel! :)

russell1200 said...

David: LOL - Some of the Jane Austin mashups probably come close. His gaming world was trying to be very open ended as to what types of games could be played in it, so some of the the genre mixing may stem from the initial world building.