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Wholly Smokes

by John Sladek

(Cosmos Books, $15.00, 123 pages, paperback, published May 2003.)

Originally an Ansible E-dition, Wholly Smokes, John Sladek's swan-song, is cover scannow available in a form you can persuade your local bookshop to stock. It comprises a whistle-stop (barely) fictional history of General Snuff and Tobacco, the Badcock family's tobacco empire. From its founding in the 17th century, GST survives the Great Fire of London, the American Civil War and the Hindenberg disaster, only to fall foul of its own management.

There are wry chuckles a-plenty to be had here, but in the first half of Wholly Smokes they're spread quite thinly amid a more gentle kind of humour, with the tobacco-related misadventures of the Badcock family influencing historical events. It isn't until GST's history hits the 20th century that Sladek's satire really starts to bite -- the tobacco industry's relationship with the medical establishment and tobacco advertising strategies provide rich comedy pickings. And it's comedy as black as a smoker's lungs, reaching its piece de resistance in Dwight Badcock's "Puff Love" campaign, a piece of corporate tomfoolery that wouldn't look out of place in Naomi Klein's No Logo. That's the beauty of this sort of satire -- the real world goes most of the way itself; all the satirist needs to do is give it that final push.

The faux history is entertaining enough, but Wholly Smokes is really worth having for the wicked grotesquerie of its final chapters. Placed alongside contemporary works of the Jennifer Government variety, Wholly Smokes can comfortably hold its own.

Review by John Toon.

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