1. Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey

3 Jan

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This review will be about my love Richard Kadrey’s Kill the Dead, the second book in his hilarious, vengefully hardboiled Sandman Slim series, but first there will be a detour through the French Quarter, New Orleans, to provide context….

I’ve just returned from New Orleans, where I saw some of the work of Edward Burtynsky  and, through reading the creative atlas Unfathomable City by Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker, was re-educated about the some of the environmental issues affecting the gulf coast. I knew, but had semi-forgotten that the government-corporate-industrial complex has cut convenient channels through the fragile bayou ecosystems, allowing salt water to flood in and kill everything it touches, including the mangrove swamps that used to protect the cities from hurricanes. I think I’d heard the startling figure that Louisiana loses an acre of wetlands an hour. And though I’d never seen a map of the Gulf of Mexico that renders, instead of unbroken blue water, a network of oil wells and pipelines as dense as an ariel view of New York City, we all know you can’t swim down there.

Here’s the map, the thin grey lines are pipelines and the dots are wells:

JakobRosenzweig-JacquelineBishop-UnfathomableCity1024x878

What I’d never done was viewed those facts, Katrina, the mismanagement of Katrina, and the BP spill (vanished from the news up north, still very much a reality on the gulf coast) as a seamless loop of immorality, incompetence and indifference with New Orleans as a bellweather for the country as a whole. But you can’t be in New Orleans for a week, and drive past the Mercedez-Benz superdome every day, without seeing a great, fat, featureless totem to immorality, incompetence, corruption and catstrophe.

(I had a wonderful trip, and the city is amazing, the people its salvation, but) when I absorb too much information on the things our supposed leaders do to our planet and to other people, I start thinking that the only sane response would be self-immolation on the steps of Google, like a 60s monk.

My husband claims that while I’m not wrong about the issues, the violence of my despair betrays a depressive temperament, and isn’t a balanced human response to the news cycle.

True, I’m sure.

So, onward to Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey, a joyful book for an unbalanced human being. Join me.

In this series, suicidal and homicidal is the right baseline for a hero. Sandman Slim says at one point, ”The universe is a meat grinder, and we’re just pork in designer shoes, keeping busy so we can pretend we’re not all headed for the sausage factory.” This is a hero who kills three zombies, fucks a porn star in a bathroom, and then goes home with a takeout burrito. His best friend is a severed head. After running into a nice girl at a donut shop just before a zombie apocalypse, Slim says, “It would suck to be killed and reanimated while wearing corporate antennae.” The intransigent-rebel-outsider in me rejoices. At least, it’s more fun that self-immolation.

I’ve said before that I think realistic fiction is inadequate to convey the scale and complexity of evil in our time. I don’t  really even believe “reality” exists. I don’t believe in anything that everyone tells me to. And I have a huge crush on Kadrey for agreeing with me, I think, and picking up a different brush to talk about an essentially modern and realistic despair.

The Sandman Slim series premise is a slight-of-hand where god, the devil, demons, zombies, vampires, etc., exist in Los Angeles, the capital of hardboiled noir fiction. The author is saying look around at the fucking monsters all around us, and guess what, you, the hero, are one too. And look at the so-called good guys. Angels are assholes in mirrored sunglasses, straight out of homeland security. Who doesn’t want to be bad in a world where that is good? Who doesn’t want to be a failure in a world where that’s success?

Slim, like most of us, has no choice about being alive, except he, literally can’t be killed, a trick which allows him an endless capacity for self-destruction, and, probably ultimately, no choice but redemption. In Kill the Dead, he’s serving as hired muscle for various competing factions, using his brute force skill of being unkillable. He’s a monster of some type, he doesn’t know what he is, who can be shot, stabbed, blown up, impaled with a flaming sword, and not die. Shit hurts, and he fucks up his clothes, but he survives. And, in a world where it all feels pretty involuntary and meaningless, he at least enjoys inflicting as much violence as he suffers, on the plentiful deserving candidates.

Think about the people who created these lovely sights (all photos Burtynsky’s):

edward-burtynsky-cerro-prieto-geothermal-power-station

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I’d kill them, twice, if I could Sandman Slim style. (Well, not really, but it’s fun to joke about.)

That’s my Happy New Year take on the book. There is another story where we, the devoted fans, say that the plotting is poor, the books are slow, the prose, despite the brilliant stylization, is in desperate need of an editor, and the whole thing is hokey and confusing. I was more on-the-fence about this with the first book, but the second one seals it. But still, come for the rage, stay for the one-liners. And for this fun pic of a young Kadrey…

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2 Responses to “1. Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey”

  1. Martina January 29, 2014 at 2:30 am #

    Ms. Stivers,

    Your response to our environmental situation is spot-on, as is your husband’s. Industrialization is ecocidal and reaching its limits. Sadly, much of the world requires an industrial economy to survive, but because industrialization ruins the biosphere, we won’t survive our own industry. (And, of course, we’re taking many species down with us.) How does one react to this historically unprecedented truth without despair? To ignore the situation (or to minimize it to the news cycle) seems necessary for survival, too. I’m comfortable with both positions because I find that I move between them all day long, and I recognize this movement as the “new normal.” Anyway, I’m writing an academic book about this very situation, and I would like to quote your blog in the introduction because the dialog you describe is a precise expression of the problem of being in the environmental age.

  2. Valerie Stivers-Isakova January 29, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Martina, what an interesting topic for an academic book. I wrote a lot more about exactly the issue you address in the first draft of this post, and it’s cool that you have picked up on the crux of the matter. Oscillating between rage, despair and avoidance as we speak!

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