Thursday, March 7, 2013


This it's my year for completely bugnuts reading, it would seem. Pontypool Changes Everything is a bizarre maelstrom of language-drunk Ontario gothic in the vein of the famously gory and disgusting Avatar comic Crossed. Deep in that vein. Tearing that vein out with snaggly bloodstained teeth and flinging it around like a mad dog. A mad dog that quotes Ovid and makes weird puns.

It has some of the trappings of a (yawn) zombie story -- probably just enough of same to piss off serious zombie fans looking for the mixture, same as before -- but it is so much more interesting than that, that I refuse to use the Z word again in this post.*

For one thing, it's very interestingly, sometimes surreally, written, with lines like "The tofu cube of brain walks down the wall on its slippery corners and covers the black spider hole left by the bullet."
I can totally see, in my mind's eye, what a Jacen Burroughs drawing of that would look like. Totally. But there are humdrum zombie novels full of lines like that.

No, what really sets Pontypool Changes Everything apart is the weirdo literary accomplishment it represents, for not only does it depict a highly virulent disease that is transmitted via spoken language (yeah, if the nam-shub/meme/language games were your favorite part of Snow Crash, here's a new book for your favorites shelf), but it also puts the reader pretty much directly takes the reader inside the subjective experience of the infected; every single viewpoint character (at least until the weirdo pseudo-pastoral last chapter or so) is in some stage of losing his or her grip on ordinary thought processes and language (the first symptom of the disease is aphasia), and once the strangeness of the resulting prose settles into the reader's brain, well, we're already slavering through suburban Toronto and the forests beyond the 'burbs, our necks snapped, our jaws slack, looking for someone's face to attack.

An afterword by Burgess expresses his regret at having written this novel, half grand Guignol, half post-modern experiment. I can't really say I regret reading it, but I think I can understand where the author is coming from. His experiment is not entirely successful, but it's interesting and unusual and (mostly) entertaining, and worth a look if you're in the mood for something a little different. I was, and had fun reading it, until the really pretty incomprehensible ending anyway.

*I submit that "cannibal berserker" is a better term for what the characters -- and, vicariously, Burgess' readers -- become, anyway.


  1. Did you know that this was filmed (as Pontypool)? An interesting movie, set entirely in a radio studio, as a talk radio DJ takes calls that gradually reveal what's going on outside and the language based nature of the outbreak. Worth watching.

    1. I saw in the afterword that a film had been made, but hadn't really looked it up yet. It is now in my Netflix queue! Thanks for saving me some steps, Dan!


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