This is one of those books where it’s awfully tempting to describe it by analogies to other books. You might call it Crow Road 2: Electric Boogaloo, or “Iain Banks writes High Fidelity” or even “Wonder Boys by Iain Banks.” It’s got elements of all those things, wrapped up with characteristically Banksian wit and black humor.
The book tells the story of Ken Nott (nee McNutt), a Scottish shock-jock DJ in London, who’s sort of bumbling along through a life of outrageous publicity stunts, mixed with lots of recreational drugs and casual sex. He eventually starts up a torrid and extremely secret affair with the wife of a brutal gangster, which kicks off a series of increasingly messy escapades that culminates in him finally getting his shit together (sort of).
Parts of this book are strongly reminiscent of each of the works cited above. The illicit affair subplot is somewhat reminiscent of Wonder Boys, both in the way her husband can wreck the narrator, and also the way Ken’s serial idiocy brings things to a head. The other sexual relationships in the book have a very High Fidelity sort of feel to them, in their desperate immaturity. And the book is very much like The Crow Road in that it bumbles along episodically for a while, until the last third, where you can imagine the author saying “Shit! I need to wrap this up!”, stubbing out a joint, and banging out the ending in a rush. It all wraps up very abruptly, with some of the trademark Banks ultraviolence, but the ending is, on balance, a happy one.
That’s the good part. Unfortunately, Ken’s shock-jock job provide a platform for a large number of DJ rants– indeed, the sheer bulk of DJ material occasionally makes it seem like that’s the primary reason the book was written. Given Ken’s position and inclinations, these bits consist largely of extended rants about political matters, from a very leftist position (UK leftist, that is– not the sort of mealy-mouthed centrism that gets tagged “radical” in the US).
On several occasions, I’ve half-seriously wished for a liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, or the talk-radio ranter of your choice. Ken’s rants provide a nice demonstration of what (a mild version of) that sort of thing would be like, and it’s not pretty. There are some entertaining rants, but the overall tone is a little too polemical, and as a whole, it didn’t really work for me.
In some ways, it’s nice to find that my aversion to excessive politicking in fiction isn’t an inside/outside fandom problem— Banks’s liberal ranting bugs me as much as Heinlein’s libertarian ranting, and I agree with more of what Banks says. If you’re not put off by that sort of thing, Dead Air is a very good book, but personally, I didn’t like it as much as The Crow Road, which had a very similar plot, with fewer screeds.
(Originally posted to The Library of Babel.)Powered by Sidelines