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...And The Angel With Television Eyes

John Shirley

Night Shade Books

US Hardcover First

ISBN 1-892389-13-4

240 Pages; $27.00

Date Reviewed: 04-16-02

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel



Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror

02-14-02, 03-04-02, 04-18-02, 08-05-02, 12-13-02, 12-31-02

'"I've gone mad," he uttered, "And it's only to be expected."'

John Shirley is not a writer known for pulling his punches. Once a punk, always a punk. He started out as the cyber variety (the 'Song of Youth' trilogy and numerous short stories), graduated to the splatter type ('Wetbones') and now, well, he's just an uber-punk. His latest novel from distinguished publisher Night Shade Books in San Francisco, '...And the Angel With Television Eyes' shows him to be A Man Without A Genre. Pulling from all of his previous gigs in the various punk worlds he ruled, '...And the Angel With Television Eyes' is the best thing to hit the non-hallucinating masses since the Electric Kool Aid parties. It's beautifully horrifying, transcendently weird. If you think that the experience of slowly going insane and sliding into a world of translucent monsters and archetypes sounds like fun (and don't want to kill your brain cells in the process), then this is definitely the book for you.

Max Whitman is a television soap opera actor. He's no Olivier. Trying to build up his acuity before an important audition, he decides to indulge his girlfriend's suggestion that he try a sensory deprivation tank. While inside he disconnects from our reality, and never really dials back in. Soon the visions he experienced in the tank are following him on the street, popping up in on-line computer games and showing him parts of himself and the world that normal humans can barely imagine. Fortunately for the reader, John Shirley is our guide into the Surreal World. As Whitman's normal life rapidly unravels, his journey into a world of barely perceivable ethereal archetypes begins. The race is on, and the pages fly. If Max doesn't either pull all the way out of it -- or find a way to go with a flow that is terrifyingly reminiscent of the onset of adult paranoid schizophrenia -- he'd going to end up penniless and perceived as mad, or find himself a victim of forces that invisibly shape this world. Both options involve a lot of suffering.

Shirley does the 'normal life unravels' schtick with great elan. Max is not exactly likeable, but he retains some core of honor that renders him interesting. He's like someone you might actually meet, or already know. But lost jobs and girlfriends are the vanguard of something much more interesting. Shirley posits that our world is shared with beings who are composed of energy, archetypes, demons -- John Keel's ethereal Merry Pranksters. Some of them are confined in human form before blossoming. Some want to help humans, and others would just as soon use them for sustenance. As Max slides into their world, he has to determine which is which, who is what, and his part in the whole drama. He's good at the drama part -- he's an actor.

Shirley builds effectively tension with his "who is wearing what face" mystery plot line. He also gives the whole proceeding a rather nice 'vibe' that can only be classed as psychedelic, in the best sense of the 1960's definition of that word. His visionary writing is excellent, and the pictures he paints with his words will hang in the reader's mind like a screen saver for their mental computer. And although some fairly horrific stuff happens, there's no cruelty or selfishness to give the book a 'bad vibe'. On the other hand, Shirley also manages the neat trick of staying completely clear of namby-pamby new age sentiment even when he's excavating buried archetypes and Angels With Television Eyes. It's a delicate balancing act, and the author manages to pull it off.

'...And The Angel With Television Eyes' is more than just excellent writing -- it's also a nice package, a quality volume with a decent size font for those are pondering going from bifocals to trifocals. Night Shade Press is consistently offering up some quality printings. But even if it were scrawled on the inside of a discarded paper bag, or uttered in your ear by a foul-smelling man in a shabby suit waiting in the bus station, '...And the Angel With Television Eyes' would certainly be just about the best mind-altering substance you could read.