Books. I read a lot of them. I know what I like and I know what I want to set on fire and throw down a sewer pipe (I’m looking at you, The Red Tent). Once in a while, though, I like to get out of my comfort zone. I will go into the bookstore, ramble around, and pick a novel at random. My only criteria being that I don’t know a damn thing about the author or the story. Despite my best efforts, most of the time whatever I pick stays within the bounds of genre expectation. Any book nerd can tell you that novels are typically (sadly) safe.Typically, but not always. Once in a while I get lucky and pick up a gem of a book that blows my friggin’ mind and takes me places I did not even know existed (I’m looking at you, The Bighead (P.S. – fans of grotesque horror should run, not walk, to Amazon and score themselves a copy of that novel, you will thank me after you stop projectile vomiting). But I digress…The point of this review is to assure you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that The Fictional Man is just such a book. A book that makes you snort wine through your nose while you read it. A book that you want to quote endlessly on Facebook and Twitter even though it will not make any sense out of context.“Lance Pritchards and all those bastards on Amazon, giving their meagre three-star reviews to books like The Saladin Imperative: A Kurt Power Novel, even though it had surely completely changed their understanding of Middle Eastern politics. Bastards, all of them.”A book set in this day and age about a moderately successful fiction writer? Yes, Al Ewing is more meta than you. Accept it. Move on.And who is this Al Ewing of whom I speak? Fans of Judge Dredd and the British sci/fi comic anthology 2000 A.D. will recognize the name. He has been writing in comics for the past decade and has penned several novels for Pax Britannia, which can best be described as New York City steampunk Westerns. Next, Ewing will be coming to a new Marvel Comics Mighty Avengers series near you. Novels, comics, scripts for short films; the man and his word processor get around.But what makes The Fictional Man so awesome? Well. It is the story of an asshole; an asshole and his dreams.Did you ever have a dream? Perhaps you dreamt of being a writer, or an actor, or a famous musician. In your dreams you are a wild success. The novels you write dominate the New York Bestseller list. Your albums sweep the Grammys. You replace Christian Bale in the Batman franchise (with the added bonus of getting to bone Anne Hathaway, when she reprises her role).We all have dreams. In my dreams I am a vigilante ninja bounty hunter.Ewing’s protagonist, Niles Golan, dreams. His dreams are as flawed and ridiculous as he is. He dreams that the literary critics of the world will finally recognize that he is a young Thomas Pynchon. He dreams that his ex-wife will forgive him for cheating on her…with everyone, including her boss. He dreams that his best friend, Bob, will come to the realization that because he is a Fictional (more on them in a minute), he is naturally inferior to Niles. Unfortunately for Niles, the likelihood of these dreams coming true is about the same as me quitting my job and becoming that ninja.In addition to his disappointing fantasy life, Niles is having a tough time as an author. His generically awful detective series about the adventures of Kurt Power (not counting the series about Madeleine Sorrow, the “forensic pathologist ex-porn star with an estranged daughter who solves violent crimes in Edinburgh”) are not getting the accolades they deserve, which dooms any hope his franchise had for getting a movie deal. What burns Niles most is not the lack of success, but the inability to create a life born entirely from his own imagination.Fictionals. Human clones, born into the world fully alive and aware, programed to be the living incarnation of fictional characters. Most Fictionals are built to order by studio execs who see an opportunity. They pop out of their tubes, go straight to the sound stage, and play the role they were literally born to play. Fifty thousand Fictionals live in Los Angeles alone. We know who they are because we see them on TV and in the movie theaters. There is Dexter Morgan, Indiana Jones, Classic Sherlock Holmes, TV Sherlock Holmes, Action Sherlock Holmes.You get the picture.Ewing is a goddamn genius. He sets the story in L.A., casts a dysfunctional writer as his main character, and looses him in a world almost identical to our own. Niles starts out as an isolated bigot who imagines himself to be an alpha male, not unlike his character, Kurt Powers. Despite this type of wishful thinking, when Niles is being honest with himself, he recognizes that he is a giant ponce.Instead of writing the Kurt Powers script he always wanted to, Niles is tentatively commissioned to rewrite a 1960’s sexist spy flick, which was inspired by an old, reality-bending episode of a Twilight Zone knock off (Ewing writes an in-story review of the TV episode, which stars William Shatner, and which was so compelling I Googled it trying to find out if it was real). The TV episode was, in turn, inspired by a children’s book, which was inspired by a short story, which was the echo of a WWII vet’s terrible experience with PTSD. All of which echo down the corridors of time, reflecting back the weird and not-so-wonderful life of one Niles Golan. In the midst of Niles’s existential crisis, Ewing captures the insular, isolated, entitled, and altogether self-important attitude so familiar today. Niles is not an anomaly. Niles is the ugly, rotted, underbelly of each reader. Who is going to validate our sense of self-worth when the majority of the people we know are virtual? Who are those people anyway? Are virtual relationships any better than imagined relationships? What is real? Is it the life we live or the life we image we are living?Niles has to grapple with these questions as his life falls apart around him. During his struggle to become a better person, he does terrible things. He treats the people around him horribly. Plus he is an absolutely awful, date. Who drops a load in some stranger’s bathroom after a one night stand? Really?When your life is a one continual train wreck, when do you finally decide to throw in the towel and convince yourself it was all fiction?
Den of Geek Rating: 5 out of 5 stars