NewCon Press, 2011, 254p. (Cyber Circus and Black Sunday)
On a future Earth, or possibly some other planet altogether, known as Sore Earth, where an agricultural innovation known as Soul Food has led to soil despoliation and dry, barren conditions, a flying circus whose big top doubles as an airship roams a post war countryside to entertain sets of miners who employ vast burrowing machines in their endeavours.
The main characters are the circus acts, all with varying degrees of augmentation. The ex-soldier, Hellequin, is one of the enhanced vision HawkEye (Hellequin having unwillingly chosen his cybernetic eye as the lesser of two evils.) Desirous Nim – or is it Desirious, the spelling keeps shifting – is a woman wired up to glow from within. We also have the transvestite Lulu, plus Pig Heart, who has a pig’s heart and lusts after the wolf woman, Rust. Also prominent are the ringmaster Herb and D’Angelus, a gangster figure who pimped Nim out before she escaped his clutches and whose attempts to recapture her drive the plot.
The story consists of a series of violent episodes, with no-one questioning the brutal nature of life on this world, which nevertheless seemed to me not to require such a callous disregard for the better angels of our nature.
As well as confusion over the spelling of Nim’s qualifying adjective, which, since she is supposed to be an irresistible beauty, ought in any case to be “Desirable,” the text is further littered with homophones (assent for ascent, peddle for pedal,) malapropisms (slating his thirst,) adjectives used as nouns (“a sense of nauseous,” “mouth blackened with visceral,”) other spelling mistakes (eek out, fury limbs,) grammatical errors (“It breezes out past the edge of the ring, lifts and swooping over the heads of the gasping audience,”) and common typos (hanging on for dead life.) I have noted before Lakin-Smith’s form in this regard. These things matter because they tumble the attentive reader out of the story in order to try to make sense of what has just been read thus highlighting its constructed nature and destroying suspension of disbelief. It is possible that every one of these solecisms was a deliberate choice by the author for some arcane reason possibly to do with attempting to make the language feel futuristic. If so it failed – at least for this reader. Then consider the fact that “court-martialled” is rendered in its accepted form on one page but given on the very next page as “court-marshalled.” Such lack of care and attention to detail goes beyond any striving for effect into the realm of the slapdash or carelessness and verges on contempt for the reader. NewCon Press is a small publisher whose resources may not stretch to a proof reader: but if they did I would suggest they ask for their money back.
As ever such infelicities emphasise other problem areas. The circus’s airship apparently uses steam as its lifting source. (It often requires to set down to fill with water.) Why? Water needs a lot of energy to vaporise it. The heat employed to generate the steam would surely be more efficiently used directly; as in a hot air balloon. Plus water is a scarce resource on Sore Earth. But then, of course, the plot depends on Cyber Circus seeking out a water source.
The other story in the book, Black Sunday, is better, with only one homophone but some unconvincing attempts to mimic US speech. Though it shares a burrowing machine with Cyber Circus it’s dated as the 1930s and apparently set in the US dustbowl – but there are slaves so it can therefore only be construed as an altered history.