Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My review of Fandemonium, a novel by Rick Schindler. Excellent reading...

Fandemonium is a 400 page novel written by veteran journalist, Rick Schindler, published in 2013 by Wattle Publishing. An avid comic book collector and fan, this is Schindler's first novel, and is set against the backdrop of the comic book industry.

Heavily satirical in its look at the underpinnings of the business that surround comics, Schindler skewers egomaniacal creators, weak-willed  publishers, the corporations that are all about the bottom line, and the obsessive fans.

Beneath it all is a love note from a long time fan of comics, both celebrating the overblown spectacle that sometimes surrounds the industry, and poking fun at the more absurd goings-on that occasionally take place.

The story follows events that take place after Ray Sirico, one-time writer extraordinaire, is tasked with writing a story that will end with the death of his most popular character, Skylord. Sirico is a shell of his former self, done in my drugs, alcohol, and the weight of his own ego. The once great writer can barely focus long enough to make it to the corner store, much less write a script on deadline. Yet, in his mind, he still believes that he has one last shot at making it back to the big time. He happily imagines writing the triumphant return of Skylord from the dead, and drinking in the accolades from an adoring audience of fans. The only thing is, the new owners of Colossal Comics have no intention of bringing the character back to life, they are instead using his death as a revenue generating ploy, while simultaneously giving notice to the fans that their comics have a new, more modern edge.

Both points are extremely important to the new owners, Nebula Communications, so important that they've intentionally left the volatile Sirico out of the loop. Colossal Comics has been bleeding money for years, which led to them being easy pickings when Nebula stepped in and bought them out, and the publicity of a beloved hero's death is one of their plans to begin recouping the company's financial losses. Another reason for the downward trend of Colossal has been the departure of star artist Tad Carlyle to form his own company, Fireburst Comics, taking with him a large part of Colossal's readership. The heroes being portrayed by Tad and company are seen as gritty, edgy, and overwhelmingly cool; with Colossal's heroes being seen as establishment figures with which the younger readership has lost touch. This is a last ditch effort to win back readership, put the company in the black, and put Colossal back on the map. The first key is getting the fans attention, whetting their appetites for the forthcoming release, so the announcement of the event will take place at the premier comic event... Fandemonium!

There is an enormous cast of characters, different subplots being drawn together, and intriguing backstory contained within the 400 pages of Schindler's novel, so much so that I could write about it endlessly. The above synopsis hardly does the novel justice, but there's too much contained in the story to go into depth. Suffice it to say, the book is densely plotted, with oddball characters popping out of its seams, featuring both laugh-out loud moments, and truly poignant scenes. The author has a knack for making even his most unlikable characters relatable beings, usually through flashbacks that explore why they are who they are... The dialogue moves from being highly naturalistic to the extreme of swimming in purple prose, and is, as a whole, one of the best aspects of the release. The overall examination of the various character's journeys, from fresh-faced and full of fire, to jaded, deluded shells of their former selves is also highly fascinating.

Another strength is the author's efforts to ground this in (an absurd, but at times, spot-on) reality, which encompasses many chapter interludes; everything from interoffice memos, to media reports, to records of obsessed fan's internet searches. Add all of this up, and you have an extremely well thought out (and executed) piece of fiction. Or is it? When it comes down to it, this story moves from strength to strength, without putting all it's money on one horse... It contains humor, tragedy, and human fallibility, along with everything in-between... Like life itself. I laughed at the presentation of a number of stereotypes found within our tribe, sighed and shook my head at any number of wrong moves that pushed the characters further along their path to unerring oblivion, and came away immensely satisfied after turning the final page. While being set in a microcosm, the behaviors and events depicted apply to the macrocosm of our society, with names being changed and faces being blurred to protect the identities of the guilty... Our friends, our neighbors, and humanity as a whole. The entire novel works, when viewed from the surface, but if one starts digging deeper... You might just find a surprising, multifaceted, lush portrayal of the human condition in its depths. If I haven't been obvious enough with my incessant gushing, this is highly recommended reading. Enjoy!