AMBIENT by Jack Womack


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A baleful look at a near-future New York racked by violence, this first novel (using linguistic tricks reminiscent of Burgess' Clockwork Orange) goes more for flashy surface effects than a coherent projection of a future society. It is the 21st year of the Russo-American war, only a nominal war since all nuclear weapons have (supposedly) been destroyed. The real war is being fought by the Army against unidentified rebel elements on Long Island. Manhattan, too, seethes with violence, despite (sometimes because of) continuous Army patrols through its zones. The weather has turned odd: the ocean will soon cover low-lying areas of the city. Christianity has been discredited; worship of E (Elvis) is widespread. The Owners form the most privileged class; its most powerful members are the Drydens, a father and son locked in a deadly power struggle. The hero/narrator is Seamus O'Malley, the younger Dryden's guard and confidant, in love with his boss's plaything Avalon, an ambitious sex-kitten. Quite implausibly, O'Malley moves back and forth between the Owners and the Ambients (hideously disfigured products of a nuclear accident), since he lives among Ambients with sister Enid, a voluntary Ambient due to the spikes she has had implanted in her skull. Ambient English is poetically compacted and tough to figure out. There is a minimal plot (a power ploy backfires and O'Malley and Avalon flee the wrath of the Drydens) designed to give us a Cook's tour of Manhattan, see some skulls being split, and watch the weirdos up close. A notably corny ending features Alice, a super-computer that knows everything and is programmed to blow up the world should anybody blow up Old Man Dryden. Future schlock.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1987
ISBN: 0802134947
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson