The third book in my book review trilogy, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler, was exceptionally enjoyable and yet also in some tiny way a little disappointing. I went in to this book with higher expectations after the Tofu Muchacha highly recommended it to my dad (by giving it to him for Christmas), and then in turn my dad recommended it to me. It definitely didn't disappoint.
It's a really quick read, and that's primarily because the pacing is like lightning. There's no long rumination on the nature of life, or the nature of some tree, or the nature of nature.... Gischler doesn't settle on anything for more than a few sentences, and this definitely lends to a sort of cinematic quality that seems to be cultivated throughout. More on that quality later.
The characters are broadly drawn and mostly straightforward. The protagonist, Mortimer Tate, has basically ridden out a nuclear apocalypse in a cave in the mountains of Tennessee, largely because he was doing everything he could to avoid finalizing the pending divorce with his wife Ann. He's smart and resourceful, but certainly not exceptional. He finds allies in convenient and coincidental ways. He finds himself in scrapes quickly and gets out of them just as quickly. He faces adversity, but always seems to find himself just this side of lucky.
The scrapes Mortimer finds himself in are all escaped just slightly too easily. If you analyze all of the different predicaments he gets into, and all of the ways he seems to just happen his way out of them. Whether it's being held prisoner in a forgotten mental hospital for women (where he's being held to provide his "seed", blatantly robbing from both The Odyssey and Arthurian legend.), or he's tied to a post and witnessing a guy get eaten limb by limb, and yet somehow getting free.
The people he meets are juuuuust slightly too archetypal. You have the self-glossed "Buffalo Bill" who dresses like a cowboy. Mortimer hypothesizes this is due to people's innate need to have identity, and how the nuclear disaster robbed people of their classical identities. There's the brutish "Kyle" who Mortimer simply knows as "The Beast" for their entire encounter. His entire character is essentially there to be a horrible violent rapist.
One particularly interesting thing about the characters, to me, is that the women are much, much more complex. It's funny, after reading Dan Brown's faux-Feminism, to read a book that on it's surface is far more chauvanistic, but in actuality is far more empowering. The 2 strongest characters in the book are Sheila, the teen-aged sex-slave of Kevin, who after his death becomes a prostitute, and Ann, the ex-wife of Mortimer who also becomes a prostitute after the Armageddon, who flat out declines his assistance when they're finally re-united. It's the secret good writing of Gischler that places these women in traditional roles of subservience and yet finds ways to make them empowered. Sheila's journey is especially satisfying.
That's about as deep as I'm comfortable getting with it... I think the book can be compared pretty aptly with movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. Nothing deep at all, and wildly funny and exciting and sexy, but also probably not up to intense scrutiny.
It's difficult to pin down exactly what makes the book so satisfying...It's not the characters, which are conventions or variations on conventions. It's not the scenarios which are all a little too similar to others we've read. I really think it's the language and style and economy. The language has a familiarity to it that edges around the colloquial almost constantly, but it also makes it completely accessible. The dialogue especially is so funny and clever. There's this great exchange between these two reluctant female cannibals that made me laugh out loud. When I say "economy", I mean that where Dan Brown will use 2 pages to explain something that may really only need 2 paragraphs, Victor Gischler uses 2 sentences and makes them suffice nicely.
I have barely discussed at all the creative and interesting future that Gischler invents. A world of cannibals and strip clubs and budding economic powers and in-fighting and martial law. It's so dense and detailed, I can't possibly do it justice, but it almost makes the book worth the read simply as an interesting "what-if".
I mentioned earlier that I found the book greatly enjoyable, but also a little disappointing. You know how almost every movie ever made that's based on a book gets the classic "it's not as good as the book" comments? Well, this book actually feels like the opposite for me. It's disappointing only because I think it would make a better movie than book, and from what I can find, there's nothing in the works. It's an amazingly visual book with potential to provide great "ruined skylines" and these seedy Go-Go clubs and blimps and trains moved by giant muscled freaks. The dialogue is truly funny and sharp. Almost like a play. The book is divided episodically, and can easily be broken down into scenes.
For the fun of it, here's my main cast: Mortimer Tate played by Mark Ruffalo Buffalo Bill played by Viggo Mortensen Sheila played by Amanda Seyfried (Sheila is described as being only 16 or 17, but the movie would be a definite Hard "R", so that age would likely have to be adjusted to like... 20) Ann played by Isla Fisher Joey Armageddon played by Paul Giamatti The Red Czar played by Stanley Tucci
It's easily in the top 2 books I would line up to see as a movie (along with The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon). I think the movie would actually be able to improve on the book, and the book is really great. I hope they do it.