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Year Zero
by Brian Stableford; illustrated by Tim Denton
(Sarob SF&F, 221 pages, hardback, 22.50 + 2.50 P&P; June 2000.)

Molly, the protagonist of this rather good novel by Brian Stableford, has abused just about every substance you cover scancould imagine abusing, working the streets as a prostitute and occasional dominatrix to pay for her habits. She has two daughters, both long since taken into the care of abominable foster carers, the Jarvises.

Grim? Depressing?

Perhaps, but Year Zero is redeemed by Stableford's cynical dark humour and is, in fact, a story crammed with hope. As Molly is told at the outset, the year 2000 should really be called Year Zero, a time to wipe the slate clean and start over again, and so she determines to do just this: to restart her life, get herself straight and get her children back from the Jarvises.

But first, she has to defeat the Devil and save the human race, of course...

It's clear from very early in this novel that Molly's fantastical exploits are not to be taken at face value. She lives in a world of extravagantly paranoid delusions, or perhaps extravagantly strange encounters: she meets Elvis at the singles night at the local supermarket, finds a fallen angel in the street being ignored by everyone, its condition steadily deteriorating the more it is shunned.

Is Stableford offering us a sequence of beautifully crafted parables? The story of Molly's encounter with the angel, for example, is a wonderful metaphor for her own struggle to drag herself up from the squalid depths of human existence: the advice she gives the angel could so easily be a prescription for her own redemption.

Or is this a more literal story than that? A psychological exploration of Molly's drug- and experience-shaped condition?

Is it simply a fantasy romp, a tale of the exploits of a character drawn into some of the fictional and folk-tale clichés of our time (fairies, heaven and hell, little green men, urban myths)? No, of course not, although Year Zero is a high-paced entertaining yarn.

What we have is a protagonist who believes in what is happening to her, who goes through the process of learning to accept that, in fact, much of her experience is delusional, just as the reader learns that the text should not be taken at face value. Molly is an unreliable narrator coming to terms with her own unreliability; the reader an unreliable witness, swinging from one interpretation to another.

I think Brian Stableford had fun with this one. I certainly did.

Review by Keith Brooke.

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© Keith Brooke 26 August 2000