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Dummyland: Accomplice Book 3

by Steve Aylett

(Gollancz; £9.99, 119 pages, paperback, published 21 November 2002.)

It's business as usual in Accomplice, cover scanHell's twin town, when a newly made doll escapes from the Church of Automata and runs riot through the streets. Mayor Rudloe, who never has to think up new ways to oppress the public since the public do it for him, tries to pin the blame on the ingenu Barny Juno. The demon lord Sweeney, still keen to eradicate Barny, supposedly his nemesis, sends another goon upstairs to sort him out. Meanwhile Gregor, Barny's misshapen friend with a lust for statues, is put on trial for indecently assaulting a public monument, and Barny attempts to cope with a dramatisation of a dream he's had.

More of the madness we've come to expect from Steve Aylett, but somehow this latest series of escapades just doesn't seem to match up to Aylett's past glories. I think it's the length of the work that's at fault here; for me, Aylett's brand of satire has always worked best in small, concentrated bursts, which episodic books like Bigot Hall and The Crime Studio exhibited to good effect. He can quite happily sustain a single story over a hundred or so pages, but with a continuous narrative spread across four volumes -- and possibly more to follow -- I suspect he's overreached himself. Worse, he's starting to tend towards soap opera.

The thing is, we've seen the set-up, we know enough of how Accomplice works and which way the characters will jump to be able to second guess much of the text. In other words, we've heard the joke before. Steve Aylett is capable of writing wonderfully perceptive, acerbic and witty prose, but like all good comedy it depends on spontaneity, something that is lacking in a book whose plot so strongly echoes those of its two predecessors. Once again Barny Juno, the unwitting hero, defeats the machinations of his nightmarish foes simply by muddling through his mundane life. The mundane triumphs over the fantastic. How horribly true.

Perhaps Book 4, Karloff's Circus, will tread fresh ground and bring this tetralogy to a satisfying conclusion. Dummyland, disappointingly, is the literary equivalent of drumming your fingers on the table and boasting that it's got a good beat.

Review by John Toon.

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