Sunday, March 9, 2008

Second-Hand Book Corner: K.W City

NOTE: Was originally going to be posted August last year.

I have just recently discovered the greatness of second-hand book shops. Oh, yes. Lots and lots of books, and half the joy is finding something good in all the dross.
World War II classic The Eagle Has Landed, anyone? Just $1.50 and it was worth that money alone to read the bit where Liam faces off against some Birmingham gangsters...

So... what did I drag out of the slush pile the last time I was there?


aka. The most fucking insane book that I've ever read.

In a good way.

When researching the book to a minor degree online, by far the biggest shock was the revelation that the writer is an acknowledged, accomplished and serious science fiction author. Because reading this eyebrow-raising extravaganza, I thought he must have been a brain-damaged spawn of Hampton "Snowman" Fancher, the original progentior of the Blade Runner script in the murky history of drug-fuelled manuscripts. Fancher of course was notable for planning a fight to the death between Harrison Ford and Darryl Hannah using futuristic gym equipment, having a three-inch baby griffin fly around a medieval castle that was irrelevant to the plot, and have Brion James discussing the sex lives of his pet cockroaches at great length in the middle of the film.

All of these were cut from the finished version of Blade Runner in much the same way as malignant cancer is cut from a body, but I suspect that Mr K.W Jeter considers them as canonical as Pertwee's hairdo. For Jeter maintains the crazy like no other.

Firstly: it's made pretty clear in the film that the Replicants are not robots in any way that we understand them, but are biologically engineered slaves - effectively they work as robots, but are still flesh and blood. Jeter can't really work around this point, but still wants them to be robots. So... they're flesh and blood beings... that run on batteries shoved in their brains.

This idea is taken further quite forward as a means to bring back a character who quite unecquivocably dies in the film... I'm not going to mess around with spoiler warnings I'm talking about Pris, the sex-toy played by Darryl Hannah. So, even though Replicants have tissue, organs, flesh, bone... all that you really need to do is stick a battery in their brains.

BUT this isn't weird enough for Jeter to go. It is revealed by Man In Petstore (more on him later) that Pris wasn't even a replicant. Her bone-marrow sample proved that she human. She was just a human who hung out with Replicants on that off-world planet! Ha! Crazy kids!

In case you can't work out all the details in the film that contradict this (maybe something like, say, not watching the film):

*Pris has the ability to submerge her hand in boiling water without experiencing pain
*Pris can be shot twice at point-blank range by a master marksman and have full control of her body
*Roy Batty is clearly under the impression that she is a replicant when they talk in private, and, hey, I think he'd be the one to know.
*Tyrell have her inception records complete with photos of her on the factory floor. Kind of damning, wouldn't you say.

So that leaves us with this: she's a human. Who has supernatural powers. And can be brought back to life by cutting her brain open and sticking a battery inside. Any medical experts like to fill me in on the odds on that?

This brings us to the second retarded thing about The Edge of Human - incredible character returns. This is pretty much all that the book is about. To put this in perspective, by the end of the film...

Deckard - alive
Rachel - alive
Tyrell - dead
Sebastian - dead
Bryant - alive
Gaff - alive
Roy Batty - dead
Pris - dead
Holden - presumed dead

Now, in the prologue and the first chapter Rachel, Gaff and Bryant are all killed off as unceremoniously and quickly as possibly.

So... you're thinking, Deckard is the only character coming back? All new cast?

No, my friend. Consult the above list while I inform you that the central cast for the book is Roy Batty, Holden, Pris, Sebastian and Tyrell. Oh yes. Now, I should mention a slight cheat in that the Tyrell in question is Tyrell's niece, Sarah who has inherited the business. But still... four characters who died come back. Would you not describe that as excessive?

One by one - Holden is in hospital, and is broken out by an insane renegade and taken to a compound in the middle of the desert where he is given an entirely new respiratory system and is back on his feet in a matter of seconds. He then discovers his rescuer is-

ROY BATTY! But not the actual Roy Batty in the film killed by Deckard, but the templant or 'original' Roy Batty that the Replicants were based from. It should be noted that this is an idea suggested absolutely nowhere else. And that even though he is technically a 'different' character he behaves exactly the same way as the original so the distinction is utterly meaningless. Batty and Holden join up and run into...

SEBASTIAN! Who currently is being carried around on the back of one of his living toys, as he is currently a triple-amputee. Now, you might think, for a moment discarding the obvious questions posed by his survival, he'd be missing his limbs after say, Batty ripped them off him in the film off-screen. No. He cut them off himself. Because that would allow him to live longer (Like the 'battery in brain' thing I'm not really buying it...). As for the explanation of why he is alive... the police on the scene called it wrong. He was alive but unconscious. And after he got locked up in the coroner's office he just slipped out and nobody cared.


As often happens in this review I have not mentioned the plot. That's because the plot is incredibly thin.

It can be summed up thusly: Sarah Tyrell tracks Deckard down and pays him to find The Sixth Replicant. Batty breaks Holden out of hospital because he's been hired for the same thing. Nobody finds him, everyone is unhappy. Stuff blows up.

"What sixth replicant"? Anyone may well ask here, because this is one of those sad fan details that isn't even obvious in the film. But when Bryant hires Deckard he says there's six replicants on the loose but then proceeds to give him details only on four. (One has already died) This information is helpfully related to the book's audience in the most condescending manner possible. Naturally no mention is made of the fact that there were originally five replicants in Hampton Fancher's script, but it went through about half-a-dozen rewrites over the course of production and one got left in the wastepaper basket.

Then Tyrell sends Deckard on his way to the most logical lead... a pet hospital. Where some insane guy who harbours replicants in secret named Jack Isildore lives. As soon becomes obvious, he actually knows nothing at all about the Sixth Replicant. But he knows a lot about insane conspiracy theories, Nazis, the history of the Blade Runners and proceeds to let fly about it in Deckard's face for in the form of an insult-laced rant. This goes on for four chapters.

Let me rephrase that: for four chapters of this sci-fi thriller our hero does nothing but sit in a chair while a veterinarian abuses him.

The only useful thing that comes out of this talk is the fact that Pris is apparently a human, which means that Deckard is guilty of homicide and is now #1 on the Most Wanted list.

Now, to me the logic of this seems slightly flawed. If a cop shoots somebody trying to kill them in the line of duty, is that not accepted in our society? Will this somehow become deplorable if our society develops into the uncaring, emotionless and overpopulated world seen in Blade Runner? Somehow I doubt it. But, anyway, all cops in L.A have apparently been issued with a glossy photo of Deckard with "KILL THIS BASTARD IF YOU SEE HIM!" written over it and now he's on the run for his life, a fact that Isildore laughs in his face about, proving himself once more to be a loveable and relatable character.

As soon as Deckard leaves the office one of Tyrell's offsiders kills Isildore. No explanation is offered as to why.

Meanwhile, Batty, having rescued Holden, explains that he's also been hired to find the Sixth Replicant. Sadly, despite being the most hardcore mercenary in the world after that dude from Jekyll got killed, Batty apparently doesn't have the mental powers required to find people as opposed to kill them, so is hiring Holden to do all the work for him. To convince him to work for him he shows him the body of the fifth replicant, recovered from the Tyrell building...


Except it has tits. Yes, the Tyrell Corporation has become so shoddy that they release 'women' by giving them longer hair and switching the errogeni over. Charming. But Holden is, naturally, more preoccupied with the fact that a replicant with his face suggests that he's either A) A replicant himself or B) Losing out on a shitload of money for templant copyright. He isn't sure which pisses him off more..

At this point we get yet another completely divergence from the plot in favour of fan-theory while Roy Batty explains that every plothole in the film is down to a massive conspiracy against the Blade Runners.

Meanwhile, Tyrell's offsiders burn Rachel's body along with Deckard's house. No explanation is offered as to why.

Finally, Deckard and Holden actually start doing stuff... although without actually achieving anything. Deckard beats up a cop and steals his uniform Asterix-style in a riot which is massively perplexing (some dude blows up the blimp and then grabs a megaphone and screams "Save the replicants!" - doesn't have the desired effect. Whatever that was...) and sneaks into the cop building. He talks to Bryant for about another chapter from a video conference before catching up with the audience who knew Bryant was dead from the prologue onwards and runs like fuck. Batty declares that Decakrd is the sixth replicant, presumably because it's what people on message boards say and the two go and raid his house. Holden then proves Batty isn't that hardcore by beating the crap out of him and handcuffing him to a radiator. Why? I'm sure there was a reason...

Anyway, Deckard ends up falling through the police station basement into an underground railway for ferrying replicants around in a way deliberately reminiscent of the ways Jews were ferried around in WWII, where his life is saved by two namelesss, naked replicants who look like Roy and Rachel. He then decides to go to the Blade Runner safehouse to calm down and think his way through all the weird shit that's happened to him in 24 hours...

And is nearly killed by Pris as soon as he goes through the door.

By the time Sebastian has managed to retcon the end of the film, Holden kicks down the door, and confronts Deckard. Like all confrontations in the book, it is mesmerisingly long-winded and Deckard has plenty of time to work out the best escape route.

Oh, wait... I just picked up the book to quote a bit, but I forgot to mention that Sarah Tyrell shows up, kills Pris, and then pisses off again. It wasn't particularly memorable..

So anyway Deckard runs off and Holden runs after him... and nearly dies because his new mechanical heart-and-lungs kit sucks. Reluctantly, he realises that he needs somebody to give him a hand, and so crawls back to Roy, nearly dead on his feet. Here, quoted verbatim, is the greatest moment in the book, where Batty, having been released, is taking the logical reaction and strangling the shit out of Holden:

"Really... I figured it out..." [Holden] tugged at the other's wrists. "I figured it out... who the sixth replicant is..."

Batty tilted his head to one side, studying the pinned figure in front of him. "What're you talking about?"

"Put me down... and I'll tell you..."

Through narrowed eyes, Batty regarded him for a moment longer. "All right." he lowered Holden to the floor, letting go of the front of his shirt. Batty stood back, arms folded across his chest. "This better be good."

Holden doubled over, gasping to fill his lungshead level with his artificial heart to increase the passage of blood between the two orgrans. Weakly, he straightened back up, balancing himself against the wall with one hand. He stumbled over toward the apartment's living room, with Batty following after.

"It's simple. Really." He flopped down into one of Deckard's overstuffed chairs. With his foot he nudged aside the toppled piano bench so he could stretch out his legs. "Once you think about it." The numbness in his limbs had changed to prickling as his circulation rattled back to normal. Or what passed for that. "The sixth replicant... the one that's still missing. It's Deckard."

"You idiot." Batty looked down at him with contempt. "I'm the one who told you that."

Indeed he was. But Holden argues that Batty was just going off a hunch, and didn't have any proof. Amazingly, Batty is satisfied with this explanation and they go merrily on their way to hunt down Deckard at a deserted and ruined highway bridge. Once again, Holden is precluded from joining the action what with the fact he can barel move, so it's up to Batty to hunt Deckard down, mimicking the climax of the film extraordinarily. An earthquake intervens faithfully, crumbling a section of the bridge, and yet Batty is able to leap across with no apparent effort. Deckard declares that what he just did was physically impossible, and proves that Batty is a replicant!

Batty's immediate response is something along the lines of "Shut the fuck up while I kill you!" but this is one plot twist too many for the big guy and he starts going a bit peculiar and yells at Deckard that he doesn't believe in Holden's theory, doesn't even believe in the sixth replicant - he's taken the job to get to the bottom of the Blade Runner conspiracy and wants Deckard to give him some leads. Deckard has no idea what he's on about and now Batty snaps and screams that he doesn't care whether Deckard's replicant or not, he's going to break his neck and give the body to his employers and collect the money either way.

Before you even have time to realise that by stating that his employers would be unable to find out if Deckard's body was human or not Jeter has moved from just contradicting the movie to contradicting his own book as well, Holden saves Deckard's life by shooting Batty through the head, claiming that he was clearly the Sixth Replicant. Make up your fucking mind...

Meanwhile, Sarah Tyrell kills all her offsiders. No explanation is offered as to why.

After seeing the unspeakably bizarre sight of Pris return from the dead for a second time in order to make out with Batty's corpse, Deckard decides that he's well and truly had enough of this shit and goes to Tyrell to announce 'mission accomplished'. When Sarah asks him whether the Sixth Replicant is dead Deckard says that he isn't, because he doesn't exist. He gives us the most logical explanation yet: Bryant was pissed and gave Deckard the wrong numbers.

It's this bit especially that makes me wonder if this book was meant as serious at all, because it utterly trivialises and shoots down fan-theory as a load of wank, ignoring the fact that that same piece of fan-theory was the basis for the entire plot!

Then the entire Tyrell Corporation Building instantly implodes.

This is something brought up early in the book, that because of the dangerous nature of Replicants Tyrell were required to lace their premises with explosives that would be set off in case of a state of replicant-based emergency. I guess that isn't too ridiculous idea... but it seems a bit extreme for the UN to order it instantly destroyed if the three self-proclaimed 'best hunters' in the world were unable to kill "The Sixth Replicant" Who never existed in the first place and their was no evidence of the fact.

And, in the end Deckard agrees to call Sarah 'Rachel' to make her feel loved and the two leave for off-world on a shuttle.

As I said, I liked this book. Not because it was good. No, definitely not. I liked this because it really made me laugh. It retcons, contradicts and challenges everything in the films in such a ridiculously OTT way, becoming a sequel with no grasp of the original's tone, or coherent continuation of the plot or themes. At first this week, when I returned to this review, I was thinking it was akin to Kaldor City. But now I'm thinking that the appeal may be akin to Tony Attwood's unofficial Blake's 7 sequel stories, where you just sit back and marvel that somebody would not only think about these ideas, but then go on to actually write them down, and have somebody actually publish it.

One of my favourite details is the complete destruction of the Tyrell Corporation, which, after killing off just about everyone, feels like a real "taking away the toybox" action, instantly limiting the scope and likelihood of any further 'sequels'.

But, hey, he then went on to write two more sequels, so he obviously found something to write about...


Youth of Australia said...

Wow. That sounds as screwed up as Nick Briggs insisting that The Davros Mission works with BF chronology... which is like saying the new B7 audios occur after "Blake"...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

That sounds as screwed up as Nick Briggs insisting that The Davros Mission works with BF chronology...

Hmm, not heard of The Davros Mission. What exactly is it?

Yeah, personally I really hate the mindset that exists in a lot of sci-fi that anyone can be brought back, no matter how apparent their death seems to be, so this book rubbed me the wrong for a long time.

Then I just shut my brain off and went with the flow. Helped immeasurably.

I've got no idea what a reader is meant to take away from it, though. It's almost entirely taken up with Jeter's pet theories for the minutiae of the film, which fuel the plot put provide absolutely no answers.

I mean, at the end of it - there could have been a conspiracy against the Blade Runners. There could have been a Sixth Replicant. Holden could have been a replicant. But we don't know.

It's almost as if Jeter tries to avoid upsetting people by not having anything in the story confirm or refute any of the theories.. I guess the polar opposite of the Kaldor City approach but still not satisfying.

Youth of Australia said...

Hmm, not heard of The Davros Mission. What exactly is it?
When the BBC issued "The Davros Box Set", they had all the BF Davros stories and ordered BF to make a brand new audio story exclusively for the DVD. This was Nick Briggs effort entitled The Davros Mission and tells the story of what happens between Revelation and Rememberance, pretty much based on how Ben Aaronovitch saw what happened and how Davros became Emperor.

The trouble is, it completely contradicts BF's "The Juggernauts" and "I, Davros". In the Juggernauts, Davros' prison ship is shot down leaving Nekros, he tries to infiltrate a colony, and then eventually gets nine shades of shit kicked out of him, triggering the self-destruct bomb in his wheelchair which blows up the ENTIRE colony and everything in it. Exactly HOW Davros was supposed to survive this I'm not sure, but in The Davros Mission, he goes straight from Nekros to Skaro, no deviations or anything like that. Then, when he finally gets there, he is not, as I Davros says, isolated and told to come up with one good reason why the Daleks should let him be their ruler, but instead... well...

The point is, it doesn't just contradict BF, it contradicts only the stories they put out in the SAME DVD BOX SET, as if they wanted to make sure everyone who heard it realized how it screwed up continuity.

Yeah, personally I really hate the mindset that exists in a lot of sci-fi that anyone can be brought back, no matter how apparent their death seems to be, so this book rubbed me the wrong for a long time.

Then I just shut my brain off and went with the flow. Helped immeasurably.
I remember that feeling.

I've got no idea what a reader is meant to take away from it, though. It's almost entirely taken up with Jeter's pet theories for the minutiae of the film, which fuel the plot put provide absolutely no answers.
Sounds like John Peel's magnum opus.

It's almost as if Jeter tries to avoid upsetting people by not having anything in the story confirm or refute any of the theories.. I guess the polar opposite of the Kaldor City approach but still not satisfying.
If only there was some way to meet at a halway point...

Mind you, Attwood's B7 baffled me because it's clear the author transcribing the plot is a far saner individual than the one thinking it up...

Youth of Australia said...

Oh yeah, and I've done a new spoof - The Chaser's War on Colony 34, with the 7th Doctor/Ace/Hex.