Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunshine State: A Review

James Miller's Sunshine State is an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic with regards to Southern Florida, novel set in the somewhat (`12 years?) future.  The collapse is brought about by a combination of resource depletion, global warming, and lots of crappy policy.

James Miller (1976-) is a native of London.  He studied English literature at Keble College, Oxford and has an MA in Anglo-American literary relations from UCL. In 2006 he completed his PhD in African-American literature and civil rights at King's College London.  Miller is known for a confused literary style of mash-up novel.  His first novel Lost Boys combined Science Fiction, Horror, and the Thriller genre with strong anti-Western overtones.

Sunshine State, is a retelling of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The United States is in a state of slow collapse, ruled by a brutal Christion Fundamentalist government.  The story is of a British agent who has been sent to the United States to make contact with an agent that has appeared to have gone rogue, and is hiding out in the now abandoned "Zone" of Miami Florida.  It is told with a somewhat disjointed timeline, with the agent, Mark Burrows, having many fill-in flashbacks explaining how his personal situation came to pass.

The novel is intended to portray realistic events, but does so in a progression and style that is surrealistic.  It is hard to get too involved with the story line, because at least superficially, it mimics both Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and even more so the movie, Apocalypse Now.  But with elements of both.
This is confusing, because the theme of the novel, does not really fit well with either the movie, or this book. In the novel, the hero, starts in "civilization" travels, into the jungle, and then returns back to civilization. By the time you return back, you are aware (if you pay attention) that civilization itself is a bit of an illusion.  That the "horror" of the novel is the lack of substance to the civic-religion of the modern world, and the starkness of the abyss beyond.  The movie, along with this book, is coming from a society that is far less assured of its "civility", and acts as more of an indictment of the fallen nature of our ideals.  It is not a terror of the void, but a terror of a collapse of culture. The "horror" is what we do. Although not obvious, the two themes are almost opposites in their understanding of human society, and what they are trying to portray.

All of which would be fine if this novel stayed with consistent, versus cartoonish, reality.  You have clansmen-like government agents, running around the infidel, and a whole variety of thuggish characters in U.S. and British government employment, who just aren't the sensitive type. It veers into John le CarrĂ© territory with its indictment of  fighting evil, with your own brand of evil, with British Special Forces explosives experts taking the place of the spies.

It just doesn't work.  The original novel is a very tight 73 pages. This one clocks in at a flabby 344, with very little in the way of thematic expansion other than the author complaining about additional (presumably metaphorical to today's world) evils within his imaginary future.  It is interesting that British authors seem to think that an elected, transparently obvious, theocratic state, is a likely outcome for near the near future United States. Simon Morden in his Kingdom Come at least felt the need to go through a lengthy justification to make it plausible: nothing like that here.

So no, I didn't really like it.  But it is a shame because sprinkled throughout the novel are bits and pieces of interesting scenery and images, that if more tightly wound, would make for a more interesting affair.  The author seems to be intentionally going for a literary-through confusion effect here, which tends to negate some good individual bits of story telling.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

The author has a clue about weaponry and such.  He don't think he knows how to use them, but he seems to have done a reasonable job of the research.  I don't think you really want to use a under-barrel grenade launcher with explosive warheads in tight room to room clearing in American style construction, but I'm sure there is some flash-bang lethal military version that would get the job done.  Our hero, has the almost mystical ability to avoid notice, a good trick for a covert ops guy.  But the real failure in realism is to build a speculative future, and then not invest it with a tightness of logic to make it believable.  I can see some pretty nasty possible futures, but not for a moment does this one seem like anything other than a British-base politically correct, points-scoring exercise.  It is a 3.
Readability is low. The disjointed action makes for very little of the paging turning effect: unless your just in hurry to get done with it, and move onto something different.  The chaotic, and often unclear, cut aways to alternate story/reality threads accelerates toward the end of the book,.  Presumably intended to add a sense of confusion and unease, they simply muddle an already thin storyline.  It is an intentionally literary 2.


PioneerPreppy said...

Doesn't sound like one I would like very well.

russell1200 said...

LOL- me either.

Although, I think I slipped in my attempts at neutrality. I don't avoid saying which books I don't like, but I try to stay neutral enough in tone, that people with different tastes, desires, etc. can at least get a sense of what it is about.