Monday, 7 May 2012

Wake Up and Dream by Ian R Macleod

A shabby private eye gets mixed up with femmes fatales, dodgy doctors, sinister politicians and a buried secret in 1940s Hollywood.  Except this time round the detective is called Clark Gable - a failed actor from the almost forgotten era of the talkies, before the feelies changed everything.

This is a noir in a world with one big change from ours: the invention of a device which records emotions and auras, and can play them back to an audience.  It's supposed to have been introduced just a few years after the silent era came to an end, and like the earlier revolution it left a lot of one time stars on the scrapheap.  Humphrey Bogart makes a brief appearance as a boat captain for tourists, and the actress who ushered in the new era (the Al Jolson of the feelies) is Peg Entwistle.  I thought I recognised her name - in the real world she found fame by throwing herself from the top of the Hollywoodland sign.  I really liked these little touches.

It's also really successful in conjuring up a feeling of dread.  America's on the brink of full blown facism - the jews have been run out of the movie business and Klan feelies are the new big thing.  But what's really scary is the potential of feelies.  It's not really the movies - it's the adverts beforehand which give you a nasty taste of the future in this world.  Joy, lust, pride, hatred can be pumped directly into the brain.  It's already been shipped out to the Nazis to boost their rallies.  There's a real sense that this is describing the beginning of something amazing and horrible.

The plot starts out as a very nice mixture of Chandler and Philip K. Dick, although it sort of falls apart towards the end.  The one big mistake (minor spoiler) is going down the movie monster route towards the end.  If it wanted to capitalise on that dread, it could've gone all Videodrome for instance, rather than the end of Ang Lee's Hulk.

Pretty damn good otherwise, with big ideas carried through convincingly, though I should admit I only read it because I thought it was by Ken Macleod - he of the singularities and space communists.  And yet I probably enjoyed this more.

UPDATE: the only cover art I found for this book was pretty horrible because I think it's only available as an ebook, so I've replaced it with a nice picture of Clark Gable from a happier reality.


Anonymous said...

It's available both as a physical book and an ebook - published by PS Publishing ( - and the cover looks pretty nice to me!

Joe said...

Well it's certainly better than this cover

Because Clark Gable's clearly let himself go there.