Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
Author: David Wong (Jason Pargin)
Published: October 6, 2015
The Rundown: Zoey Ashe never had much to do with her biological father, real estate tycoon Arthur Livingston. Now that he’s died, she finds herself drawn into his world of mob bosses in fancy suits, internet trolls with superhuman enhancements, and 24-hour social media surveillance. Can a small town girl survive in this strange new world?
Don’t Get Strung Out by the Way I Look: The cover of this novel is very clearly designed to appeal to Millennials. It features what appears to be a collection of semi-automatic rifles alongside a cute white kitten. Internet-lovers are known for their love of both cutesy imagery and extreme violence (see the popularity of the webseries Happy Tree Friends), and the cover promises both. Fortunately, the novel delivers.
The Good Guy: Zoey Ashe is a barista who lives with her stripper mother and cat in a trailer park. She doesn’t want anything to do with her father, but finds herself roped in with his mobster associates, known as rhe Suits, in a fight against his enemies. Though constantly faced with more experienced opponents, Zoey manages to hold her own with a mixture of wit and raw nerve. She is also the novel’s most compassionate character, going out of the way to help the poor, even when these poor spit in her face. Oh, and she’s described as both overweight and attractive. Authors tend to think these traits are mutually exclusive, for some reason.
And the Bad Guy: The novel’s antagonist, a frat boy type named Molech, is what would happen if you squished all the MRA and Gamergate creeps into a single body. Molech is convinced that because of America’s affluence, its masculinity has atrophied. Men have turned into cream puffs dominated by the powers that be, getting their thrills vicariously from pornography and videogames. He will show the world what “real men” look like by tearing the world apart and rebuilding it in his image. Now, Molech is not particularly smart, but he has a great deal of money and a mindlessly loyal fanbase on social media, making him a real threat when he decides to come after Zoey.
What a Wonderful World: The story is set in the fictional city of Tabula Ra$a. Tabula Ra$a is what would happen if the makers of the Las Vegas Strip got hopped up on ecstasy and then went insane. It is architecturally tasteless, is run by mobsters, and has no functioning police force. It’s a libertarian’s wet dream, a place where might makes right. The other main component of the setting is the social media site Blink, a mashup of Twitter and YouTube. Using special glasses, people stream their daily lives to the entire world. Sounds like it could get pretty creepy, right? You have no idea.
Sweet Suits: The most interesting part of the novel, by far, is its social satire. The protagonist is a woman named Zoey who has oddly colored hair and is harassed and stalked online for no apparent reason. Now, this novel was sold approximately two years before Gamergate, so it’s not about Gamergate. But yeah, it’s totally about Gamergate.
Internet Trolls: I want you to keep in mind that I am an unapologetic, unironic brony. The main problem with this novel is that it is unbearably twee. Take this example from the first chapter:
“Zoey had begun her day promptly at one PM by waking up on the sofa and initiating a ‘morning’ routine that involved going to the bathroom, returning to the sofa, and then staring blankly at the ceiling for an hour. Then she read for a bit, ate a bowl of cereal, and did something with her hair that involved wrapping part of it in tinfoil while a nature documentary about pack hunters played on the TV behind her. Now the sun had gone down and Zoey, still in her pajamas, was standing in her yard and yelling up at a cat that had jumped onto the roof.”
Every element in this novel feels like it was engineered to cater to folks from the internet. This might work if the novel was written by a real Millennial, but Wong was 40 years old when this was published, and it just felt pandering. Fortunately, this cutesiness was toned down after the first hundred pages.
Does it Represent…
Women: The main character, Zoey, is a woman. This makes sense thematically, since the novel is really about internet lynch mobs, and most of the victims of said mobs are female. However, it would be misleading to say that this novel represents women. Aside from Zoey, there are only two female characters: Zoey’s mother, Melinda, and one of the Suits, Echo Ling. Melinda Ashe is barely in the story and serves only as a damsel in distress. Echo Ling is a computer hacker extraordinaire/ sexy seductress. Now, Wong explicitly states that Echo was forced into the role of computer expert and sex toy by the men around her because of her race and gender. However, Echo is never shown as anything other than a computer expert and sex toy, so Wong’s social criticism here is disingenuous. He essentially spends the entire novel indulging in harmful stereotypes of Asian women and then slaps on the message, “racism/sexism is bad, y’all.”
People of Color: There are loads of people of color in this novel. Early on, Zoey runs into a crew of Latino construction workers, who protect her and provide needed exposition. Of the four Suits, one is African-American (Andre) and one is Filipina (Echo), and both play major roles in the plot. Andre’s brother Tre serves as Zoey’s personal wardrobe consultant. Zoey’s bodyguard Armando is a badass, neutralizing threats and serving as a shoulder to cry on. Zoey has another bodyguard named Wu, a Chinese-American man who insists on carrying an “ancient” katana. Molech also has a person of color working for him, an African-American man called Black Scott. Finally, there’s Dr. Singh, who worked on developing the human augmentation technology.
LGBT People: There are no queer people in this novel. That said, it was refreshing that the “wardrobe consultant” wasn’t gay.
The Disabled: Singh, the developer of the Raiden technology, was in a wheelchair. He was a very minor character, however, only appearing alive in one chapter.
Did the Cat Survive? Yes, but the miniature sharks were not so lucky.
Memorable Quote: “You can lie to yourself, say that you never had a choice, that you weren’t cut out for this. But deep down you’ll know. You’ll know that humans aren’t cut out for anything. We cut ourselves out. Slowly, with a rusty knife. Because otherwise, here’s what’s going to happen: you’re going to die and you’re going to stand at the gates of judgment and you’re going to ask God what was the meaning of it all, and God will say, ‘I created the universe, you little shit. It was up to you to give it meaning.’”
Recommended For: People who like quirky humor and spend lots of time online.
My Rating: 3/5 stars