01/08/2007. Contributed by Paul Skevington
pub: Immanion Press. 244 page paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK) ISBN 978-1-90485-335-0.
check out website: www.immanion-press.com
The links between SF, fantasy and alternative music couldn't be clearer to see. Just take a walk down to your local bookstore and have a peek at the people visiting the genre section. Be careful not to be washed away by the seas of black clothing you'll find there. You could also try having a chat with a few of your local friendly neighbourhood Goths. You'll find the conversation turning to spaceships and dragons with an alarming regularity.
The reason for this connection is simple, both alternative music and alternative fiction draw from the same wellspring of imagination. Their admirers are unsatisfied with the vapid pointlessness of chart-friendly manufactured bands or the bland boredom of the so-called 'naturalistic' novels that attract the attention of the mainstream.
In her debut novel 'Tourniquet', Kim Lakin-Smith unites the two cousin cultures in a book that is bound to appeal to those who have waited for their various interests to be recognised and united in one highly appealing package.
In 'Tourniquet', Nottingham has been re-branded 'Renegade City' after a highly popular and influential rock group named Origin decide to retire there, making it their mission to change the place into a haven for those who no longer wish to live in fear of conformity and self-repression. They create a system called 'Belief' that allows each person to bring their own private fantasies to life within the boundaries of physical law. Clothes, make-up and elaborate body modification are used to this end, creating a spectacular illusion that becomes more real than reality itself. The members of the band model themselves after vampires and adopt an almost god-like position in the city's hierarchy, naming themselves the Drathcor. Four clans form around them. the Fae - hedonistic fairies with wings to boot; the Darkled - black garbed goth and gothettes. The Trawlers who spend their lives on the rivers. The Castclan - practitioners of various pantheistic and pagan belief systems who combine their love of earth-magic with a healthy enthusiasm for technology.
The clans' odd little bubble world is burst when their adored leader Roses dies in a mysterious fire and in his passing takes with him any hope of tranquillity or peace for the citizens of the Renegade City. Things begin to fall apart as the edges of Belief start to fray and the great project grinds to a halt before it has even begun to pick up speed.
Into this dire situation strides Druid, Drathcor drummer and brother of the deceased. He believes that Roses' death may not have been accidental and decides to investigate the circumstances of his passing. Whilst pursuing this course of action, he meets a highly unusual Fae named Jezebel and IQ, a precocious teen with a passion for the seedier side of life. They accompany him as he is forced to deal with the legacy that the Drathcor have left behind them in their act of creation, the glorious successes and the rotten mistakes, worst of which being the dangerous and ostracised Skinwalkers.
'Tourniquet' is a book that's easy to love, particularly if you have any familiarity with the music scene it focuses upon. Each chapter heading is taken from the title of a well-known rock, goth or metal track appropriate to the material that follows. The protagonists are attired in New Rocks, corsets, leather and suede. Lakin-Smith captures the soul of her chosen community with ease, breathing vitality into her creations until they rise from their resting places as truly beautiful monsters.
The Renegade City is well crafted and recognisable to any who have visited Nottingham. Familiar landmarks appear with a determined regularity but are given dark twists, bringing them more in line with the prevailing aesthetic. Of particular note is her description of Legacy, Renegade's version of the real-life Nottingham Rock City Club, which in her world forms the hub of the city's nightlife and succeeds in being even sexier than its non-fictional counterpart.
Do not mistake this book as some sort of misguided glorification of the alternative lifestyle though. Lakin-Smith is aware of the inherently problematic nature of trying to break away from the norm. When the unique becomes the everyday it devolves into just another set philosophy to bind our minds, which the author clearly illustrates with her depiction of the Skinwalkers, a tribe that has never received official recognition despite its size and traditions. Their bitterness causes them to turn violently against the system that is solidifying around them, an edifice that promised freedom but inevitably failed to deliver the goods. Druid also encounters others who fail to conform to the Drathcor's correct vision of unconformity, those referred to as Drifters. He finds his opinion of them and their place in the city changing, offering a spark of hope to the reader that the Renegade City may not be an entirely lost cause.
The character of Druid himself is an interesting combination of the best and worst of the alternative community. Although his thoughts and actions are tinged with disdain and arrogance, they are diffused with an almost unwillingly heroic urge to help others that surfaces despite his professed inclinations. The character of Jezebel is a useful foil to Druid's darker side. Through her relationship with Druid, she injects an energy into him that is much needed from a narrative perspective.
The book is described as being Dark Fantasy. However, in my reading of it, I came to believe that the book was actually outsider SF of a kind that would be at home next to the books of Liz Williams or Justina Robson. Although many of the tropes of fantasy are present, there is no overt magic in the setting. All changes are brought about through technology of a particularly gritty and grimy sort, for example, Jezebels's malfunctioning wings.
Perhaps it is futile to try to categorise a book that is treading such new ground. The only thing that is certain is that its combination of Goth and gadgetry, music and mysticism will have a new generation of mosh pit prophets drinking up every word.
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