Monday, May 16, 2011

100 Books 26 - Rob Kroese's MERCURY FALLS

With the latest date for the start of the end of the world just around the corner -- supposedly the Rapture is now set for May 21st, another chance to spoof your neighbors by leaving random piles of clothing on the sidewalks -- what reading could be more appropriate than some good old Apocalypse slapstick?

What, you didn't know that was a genre? Well it is, albeit one with very few entries so far (even fewer if you don't count the works of Tim LaHaye). It is so obvious that Rob Kroese had so much fun writing this one, though, that there are sure to be imitators if there aren't already. It will be hard to get the style, which owes a very great deal to Douglas Adams both in its delivery of one-liners and its terrifying grasp of the ins and outs of giant bureaucracies (remember, Adams didn't just write the HHGTG books but is also responsible for the maddening Infocom text adventure, Bureaucracy), but I'm sure folks will try.

Mercury Falls comes down in the "not with a bang but with a whimper" camp of world-ending narratives, almost completely reducing Armageddon to a legal dispute -- even the famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are rendered as attache cases, which only exhibit the powers for which they are sought about 2/3 of the time, wreaking highly consequential havoc the other third. The Apocalypse Accord took hundreds of years to hammer out in excruciating bureaucratic detail by a heavenly agency that makes the IRS look like five guys smoking in someone's basement. That the Accord is so airtight that the Devil is guaranteed to lose is the main engine that drives the plot, for his Unholiness just signed to get it over with and decided to figure out a way to circumvent it all later.

Enter mortal journalist Christine Temeri, whose born-again boss has assigned her the global Apocalypse Cult beat, writing stories about freaky doomsday cults and waiting and watching with them until time and circumstance prove them embarrassingly wrong -- until she stumbles, not entirely by accident, on one that isn't, or isn't exactly, and meets Mercury, sometime angel, sometime pagan deity of mischief and commerce and communication, doing his utmost to be worthy of all that his name has come to mean but also, seemingly, sitting this one out, until the job of dealing with the Antichrist falls into his lap.

I won't spoil the Antichrist for you, except to observe that he is, indeed, as Mercury calls him a few too many times, a "dickweed" and that his method of selection is very amusing. He's not at all a powerful or commanding figure, is Karl; the job that Mercury and Christine land is of protecting him rather than stopping him, for he is potentially a walking loophole for the Devil and everybody wants him.

My only complaint about Mercury Falls lies in the actual experience of reading it. It should perhaps tell you something that this is the book I put aside to read all of A Song of Ice and Fire as it currently exists, and ASOIAF was a bit of a refreshing break from it. This is not to say that Mercury Falls is in any way a bad book, just a peculiarly relentless one. What it amounts to is that Rob Kroese is very smart, and very funny, and I look forward to the day when he decides he doesn't have to prove this quite so thoroughly in his fiction -- sometimes several times on a single page. His favorite device is a rhetorical equivalency wherein he adds a pop culture annoyance to a list of serious ills "some very evil people, like the Nazis or ABBA"; "Spreading plague, burning witches, breaking up Van Halen, there's no telling what he's got her working on now." Since the whole nature of his Antichrist manifests in much this same way, it becomes a bit much; for my money, a book this funny as a whole doesn't need to keep reminding me that it's funny in all of its minute parts.

That annoyance aside, Mercury Falls is an entertaining read, as its author is an entertaining follow on Twitter, and a very timely choice if you're looking for something to read right before the Rapture.

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