(Cosmos Books, $17.95, 302 pages, paperback, published 2004.)
Halfway through the twenty-first century, aliens invade the Earth.
But this is no simple physical invasion; these aliens have musical
different from our own, and the transcribed melody of our electronic
financial transactions is one that grates on their ears. Their first
act is to infiltrate the world through electronic music, and their second
is to catastrophically "remix" the global economy. As urban society
collapses, a small band of underground artistes embarks on a quest to
find the musical essence of humanity -- a music that the aliens won't
be able to subvert.
Hallucinating is ... um ... odd. By the author's admission,
this is a book aimed at "festival people ... alternative types, hippies,
travellers, freethinkers and the like" as much as at SF readers; more
so, I'd say. The narrative voice is quite obviously pitched at festival
folk, and the cameos from (now octogenerian) members of bands like Ozric
Tentacles and Shpongle are intended to please quite a specific crowd.
This I don't have a problem with, but I did feel that the cameos were
a bit indulgent -- too much so when one electronic artiste by the name
of Steve Palmer puts in an appearance ... Shame, sir, shame. Having
all your favourite musicians grab the mike at Glastonbury for five minutes'
jamming apiece in one big orgiastic sesh would, I suppose, be a good
thing. Or at least a diverting spectacle. I'm not sure that having them
pop up in bit-parts in a novel works on quite the same level, though.
That the collapse of the global electronic economy might leave civilisation
in the hands of alternative/underground culture is certainly plausible,
but it does make it a little difficult for those of us entrenched in
the electronic economy to identify with the book's heroes and the world
they inhabit. Nulight, the central character, in particular starts the
book as an intolerant extremist, and doesn't seem to change much during
the course of his adventures; it falls to Kappa, Nulight's lover, who
is more often prepared to meet people halfway, to engage the casual
reader's sympathy. The other major character in the novel is Master
Sengel, who manipulates events largely from the sidelines, and whose
changing appearance means that we never entirely get to know him. These
elusive figures are appropriate touchstones for a counterculture in
which identity is more fluid and self-determined than in mainstream
society, but less than helpful mediators between the story and yer average
The story has its faults too. On the third page of the book Nulight
abruptly decides that aliens are responsible for the autonomous electronic
music in a Berlin nightclub. There's no lead-up, he just reaches this
conclusion in one jump. The aliens themselves, by remaining aloof for
much of the book, don't really provide a solid enough opposition for
our heroes to push against; they're more of an ideological threat than
an immediate physical danger, reactive rather than proactive in quashing
the humans' efforts to repel them. In Part Four, Nulight and Kappa run
up against an emergent governmental authority in Lyme Regis, a faction
that is prepared to actively hunt them down and oppress them, and this
ups the stakes nicely; I felt that this gave the story a certain drive
that had been lacking up till that point.
However, there are definite strengths too. The concept of aliens perceiving
our global economy as a discordant affront to their harmonic worldview
is a good one, and Hallucinating as a whole offers a thoughtful
examination of what music is and what it means to us on a spiritual
level. In the course of their quest, in Part Three of the book our heroes
spend a year on the road, gathering signature songs for each of the
eight pagan festivals, and this provides not only a diverting whistle-stop
tour of the pagan year, but a deeper study of the relationship between
music and the rhythm of human life. On this thematic level, Hallucinating
does for folk and electronic music what Gwyneth Jones' 'Bold As Love'
series does for rock 'n' roll. Underneath its boisterous, colourful
festival exterior, Hallucinating hides a contemplative heart.
Like the festival scene, Hallucinating is bright, wild and just
a bit ramshackle; like the festival scene, it's not easily accessible
to most of us. Decide for yourself whether this literary experiment
is a successful one.
Review by John Toon.
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