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Friday, 20 November 2015

Book Review: Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

e are living in a time of rapid technological advancement. It’s staggering to think that I remember my dad giggling at the novelty of sending an “electronic mail”, when our daily lives are now dominated by the internet and smartphones. Emergent technologies like 3D printers, self-driving cars and aerial drones have entered our collective consciousness seemingly overnight.

The third novel by American writer David Wong (the pseudonym of Jason Pargin) explores a near-future where astounding technologies are unremarkable. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits (Titan Books) drops us into a world where Blink – an all-seeing social network, tracks your every move, nightmarish villains have superhuman augmentations and Mexican food is delivered via drones.

Our protagonist, Zoe Ashe, is a young woman living in a trailer park somewhere in rural Colorado with her mother and very smelly cat (affectionately named Stench Machine). Zoe finds herself inheriting unimaginable wealth when her estranged father dies suddenly in an explosion.

This is the first of Wong’s novels set outside the so-called Soy Sauce Series (John Dies at The End and This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It). While his previous works contrast horror and comedy with tremendous success, Futuristic Violence attempts to replicate this juxtaposition within the Science Fiction genre.

The book is unmistakably David Wong – Beginning his career as a humour columnist – Wong, executive editor of, stays true to his trademark absurd prose. He constructs a story that is simultaneously harrowingly plausible and laugh-out-loud ridiculous – a violent, dystopian fiction with plenty of fart/penis gags.

The majority of the book takes place in the bizarre city of Tabula Ra$a. Described by our protagonist as “a butt that farts horror”, this cyber-punk metropolis brings to mind Blade Runner and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

The novel’s villain, Molech, is an amalgamation of many contemporary fears in the internet age. His vulgarity, misogyny and racism, along with the enhancements which provide his platform, epitomise him as an internet troll. Indeed, the author is no stranger to this sub-culture.

The themes explored in Futuristic Violence raise questions about the dichotomy of technology and the internet – while it allows human achievement to ascend to new heights, it also enables the bleakest depravity. Wong teases us with these issues, but they are so thought-provoking, not examining them more thoroughly is an opportunity missed. While the book is a page-turner, the author has a tendency to break off chapters mid-moment. Perhaps if Wong had more confidence in the reader’s attention span, the structure of the book would have been more robust.

Zoe's overly naïve position – thrust into a new world by her mysterious late father – is a premise that I could compare unfavourably with Ernest Cline’sReady Player One. Fortunately, while Wong’s book is sprinkled with pop-culture references, they do not overbear the plot, as was the case in Cline’s novel.

Above all, Wong’s intention was to make this book funny and fascinating, and he succeeds. While the book may lack the philosophical weight of his previous work, Futuristic Violence is still an absolute joy to read – I eagerly anticipate the fourth David Wong novel.

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