(Immanion Press, £12.99, 330 pages, trade paperback, published
1 November 2004; ISBN 1-9048-5312-9.)
Ian Watson has been regularly writing books (and, Mockymen I now feel slightly guilty about this fact: how
has such a fine writer managed to stay so consistently off my literary
importantly, getting them published) since before I was born, so I was
faintly surprised not to have come across any of them before. Having
If Mockymen were to be turned into a film then the first 70
pages would take place before the opening credits. An Occult Norwegian
Nazi sympathiser meets a quiet jigsaw-making English couple with a strange
request for them to visit a park filled with unusual statuary in Oslo,
and take some dodgy pictures of themselves at night and turn them into
jigsaws. This is duly done, but then things go from dodgy to bad and
from bad to worse, as the jigsaw couple begin to go to pieces, wracked
by bad dreams, and the Occult Norwegian Nazi sympathiser ritually kills
himself. Cue sex and unlikely bolts of lightning in Oslo, babies sired
by (dead) Occult Norwegian Nazi sympathisers ... and finally reincarnation.
Where Rosemary's Baby only begins, our hypothetical Hollywood
Mockymen segues into its delayed opening credits: a montage of
flickering images showing global civilisation over the next ten years
coming to the very brink of ecological and social collapse. Then comes
the sudden arrival of an alien spaceship carrying a small number of
the eponymous Mockymen bearing gifts. The hysterical montage of collapse
now slows and stabilises as we see the technological marvels of the
Mockymen pulling a desperate earth back from the brink. In return they
ask only for samples of some of our bacterial life and to be allowed
to explore our world. They explore it, however, using the bodies of
human beings in a persistent vegetative state -- a PVS induced, moreover,
by the use of a Mockymen drug, Bliss, which gives the user a year of
unadulterated, yes, bliss, but then leaves the majority numbed to further
pleasure, and the minority in a PVS. These are ready to be occupied
by the bodiless Mockymen, whose original forms it turns out were only
vessels for their minds, as humans now are.
Good lord, have we only just gotten past the credits? Hollywood will
never agree to this!
Fade to black.
Anna Sharman works for the British Combined Intelligence Service, and,
as we join her, is investigating the first ever case of a person to
have apparently recovered from Bliss usage. Her department, whilst ostensibly
protecting the Mockymen visitors from harm (a condition of their intervention
is that they are guaranteed safety whilst on Earth), is actually trying
to find out something -- anything -- about the Mockymen, where they
come from and why they are here (for as Anna's boss reminds her: beware
of Greeks bearing gifts...).
And, of course, there is more to the Mockyman presence on earth
than an unhealthy interest in our ecosphere's myriad species of microscopic
worms; but what is surprising about Mockymen is just how much
more there is to it. I must confess, throughout a good deal of this
book I, for some reason, fully expected it to turn into a rather uninteresting,
vaguely metaphysical tale, and was amazed when this most unreasonably
failed to happen. Perhaps I just have perennially low expectations of
books that begin with occult Nazi conspiracies.
To turn that into a more positive statement, Mockymen is a thoroughly
engaging and refreshingly well-written book, on a major and minor scale:
replete with clever wordplay as well as some groan-worthy puns that
nevertheless continually catch the eye, but also excellently thought-out
and plotted. There are elements of horror, of science fiction, and of
the more conventional thriller, and even a smattering of philosophy
texts. And it all fits together rather well, which is surely something
of an achievement by itself. That it should be readable and engaging
as well is a rather large bonus.
I was reminded of Paul McAuley's Whole Wide World in places,
that kind of near-future police procedural, although Watson has his
eye on a significantly bigger picture here. Also, Watson's writing style
is reminiscent of (or rather prescient of, given how much longer he
has been writing) James Lovegrove. Both write in a similarly quiet and
understated idiom -- a very English style, one might say: reserved,
but carefully thought through. This is an excellent novel.
There are relatively few fireworks in Mockymen, but they are
of the variety that go off beneath you rather than, as those of most
genre books do, above you.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: