Epileptic fits of aimlessness, pop culture, and randomness (2/5)
I got a new Sony Reader for Christmas. Its original intent was to read novelettes, novellas, and novels from Project Gutenberg because I hate scrolling through the stories on the laptop. I had even make an Excel spreadsheet, organized by year, of which stories I would download, group together and read. I was quite excited about the project even though more than 100 books lay unopened on my shelves. When I got the Reader hooked into the laptop, I discovered that the Sony Reader Store had some free books… some free sci-fi books… some free sci-fi books by indie authors. The Amazon science fiction discussion forum has shown me that indie authors tend to be the pestilent kin to popularity, so I have naturally avoided their work, which is often flawed beyond the point of redemption. Perhaps it’s my romantic sense of adventure or some flight of fancy left over from the younger days, but I decided to download and read, in its entirety, one whole indie novel. Grunt RX-10 was oddly titled, brightly colored, and basically chose itself to be my first indie read. (I read the entire damn thing and I still can't make heads or tails of the cover, aside from the reference to The Matrix's Neo on the left side.)
“A Sci-fi comedy Grunt RX-10 is a story of a neurotic machine who is so depressed by being a metallic item without a soul he becomes a renegate [sic] in the world of machines. While escaping the High computer's servants, he snatches a female machine and looks forward to interconnecting the fuel tanks when something goes terribly wrong. After they have both been killed [a] few times by a bored Author a group of mad esorcists imprison them in human bodies. The both desperate machines then have to face the absurdity of life when, being former machines, earn their daily bread by burrying [sic] dead humans.”
In the sewers under mankind’s derelict cities lay a hidden human enclave living on the edge of fear that the machines will attack. Also underground are the machines who are just as scared of the fleshy humans. One such machine is Grunt RX-10, where RX-10 is the production number and Grunt is merely the series name—it’s also a name he shouldn’t entirely so proud of because the RX-10 production number is the “lamest and most ineffective one” (212) of the ten different categories. His misery is exacerbated by his ridiculously inane and impossible job of perusing old human emails laden with indecipherable context and colloquialisms. Fed up with the banality of it all, he decides to experience what the humans are always talking about—sex. He kidnaps a female machine and attempts to persuade her, after dragging her for ten miles, that their respective fuel ports should be attached in order to simulate the pleasure of giving and receiving. For this, they need a human.
Startled by the appearance of two machines, the human strikes down the fuel-sloshing lustful duo and drags them back to his crew—the Gravediggers. Rather than exorcising the demons from their carapace, the crew “esorcise” their essence into three dead bodies—the female, also named Grunt, becomes a hulking man while Grunt, the protagonist, becomes a set of twin females. With their number increased by one and their genders switched, their relationship is predictably getting more complicated.
In their new fleshy, vulnerable bodies, the duo-cum-trio bond with their human captors who earn their living guilt-tripping people into burying their dead. Their uncouth tactics are uncouth and scintilla of scruples is shared by Mordeus, the mayor of the underground human city of Zion. The machine invasion which he predicted was halted by the machines’ lack of gasoline, an untruth which catches Grunts’ newly-found fleshy ears. Grunt knows that the machines don’t attack the humans and the humans don’t attack the machines, so Grunt posits that the friction between the two is unnecessary. He elicits the help of the gravediggers to understand the truth of the untruth, a quest which will take Grunt deeper into the subterranean sewers and deeper into this own past. Which descent is more perilous, Grunt and his fellow humans will soon discover.
As can be made out by the references to “Zion” and the bastardization of Morpheus to “Mordeus”, this novel takes much of its background elements from the movie The Matrix. This is, in itself, a weak beginning which instantly turned me off to the book, but tack onto this further reference to pop culture science fiction on film and the concoction becomes nauseating. There are three references: (1) Terminator (p.34) where Connor and the Terminator are “esorcised” into the same body and beat themselves up, (2) Robocop (p.51) for no reason other than chucking it into the story, and (3) a combination of Critters and Tribbles from Star Trek (p.46) for the sake of added humor in an otherwise directionless plot. These references to pop culture sci-fi icons drag the reader away from the narrative, and I understand that this is a comedy but the enactment was ham-fisted.
A more much grievous detraction from the directionless narrative was the recurring nuisance of the characters beckoning the attention of the author as god-like being in charge of their lives. The author even injects himself into the story and jests his own creation: “I wanted, just once, to write something that wouldn’t be checked. I decided to write something not for public but just for myself to enjoy” (134). Well, I did check it because it’s available for free at the Sony Reader Store. Sorry. Further, the deity/author says, “This story doesn’t have any meaning now because it has solved the Author’s mind problems … His head is buzzing and he desperately wants to finish this shit already” (152-153). That makes two of us.
Being originally written in Czech in 2007, the novel was translated into Spanish and English in 2011. I can’t imagine there being a large readership for RX-10 in any of the three languages, but I have to say that there were very few errors or misspellings. However, the author or translator seems to be allergic to any use of indentation, double quotes, and the occasionally em dash. The quotation marks proved to be once repetitive error which distracted my attention to the narrative.
Being a comedy, however, there is the occasional snicker which is the product of some lewd humor rather than the off-the-wall zaniness which the author is fonder of:
These machines didn’t understand human sexual behaviour. But Grunt worked in the right section to know all about it. You may dick a sheep, you may dick a broken armchair, but there’s no way to dick a shovel. Also, he couldn’t believe anyone would lead him to a dead-end tunnel to have sex with a shovel. (37)
As I said, these lewd bits tend to evoke more verbal guffaws and random animal noises from the reader, but the humor within RX-10 is largely idiosyncratic with references to horny diseased hippos (128), toffee as plastic explosive (76), and the attention-taxing lingual pugilism of repeating the word “what” in reciprocal dialogue (59-60). Outside of the 220 pages of aimlessness are the additional six pages of footnotes which simply add nothing to the humor plus catapulting the reader from the narrative to the nether regions of the novel’s back pages.
Maybe picked a sci-fi comedy for my first indie novel was a bit of a mistake. Maybe my idea of an inclusive narrative with direction and originality is an alien notion. I’m happy this was free and I’m happy that I got a chortle or two from its aimlessness, but this is one novel best deleted from my Reader to make room for the far superior short fiction from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Farewell for now, indie-kingdom.