275 pages, Lulu
Review by Marc Nash
Kneel Downe is a wor(l)d builder. A fractured, fleeting world like viewing through a spectroscope. But a rich one all the same. It put me in mind of Italo Calvino's "Invisible Cities", as if refracted through a Jeff Noonian sphere. Indeed Downe acknowledges Noon's influence on the "Blurb" world.
'Virulent', a multi-faceted word that contains notions of virus, of infection, of poison, of spite and malignancy. But this book is all about the transmission of words, like a virus, the spread of an infectious creativity and imagination that gladly smears the willing reader and conducts us into the Blurb world. But it is a fractured one. For the book is made up of different sections, loosely and thematically linked through Detective Kurt Lobo and the nature of the sentient life in this futurescape.
After the single lined prologue that appears to conduct us into the dreams and visions of Joshua Knight, we enter the introduction to a future/alternative world in which Joshua's technology "births a new age" through the drug ReGen. The next part of the book takes us through the various physiological and psychological "Phazes" of the transformation brought about by use of the drug. This is where Downe's skill with language comes to the fore. Compact 140 character what- passages, bulletins, blurbs? populate this section of the book. (Yes, this section evolved via Twitter). Evocative, rhythmic pulses of language, echoing song titles and lyrics and probably fragments of literature too. The language is both skintight and sumptuous to the mind's eye, a world conjured through words, but not the sentence running on after sentence of conventional description you might be familiar with. The compact rhythm drives the pace, yields the tension of each passage, the word choices, the imagery and the assonances fuel the pleasure of luxuriating in language itself.
The next section is "History", equally fractured and fragmented, but giving tantalising glimpses into some of the spaces in between the world of the Phazes. But then comes my favourite section, three narratives involving Detective Lobo written in the style of film scripts. Lobo moves through the ReGen world in suitably noir fashion, encountering his fellow citizens who are all gene spliced with the animal of their choice as they determine their own external appearance according to their self-image. Everyone in this world is pursuing their hedonistic pleasure, while desperately clinging on to life itself. Downe ramps up the threat and menace as new foes are on the trail of Lobo and the third script ends with Lobo surrounded on all sides by enemies terrestrial and supernatural in the Police Station, much like an "Assault on Precinct 13" scenario. And this was my only disappointment with the book, that Downe leaves me hanging not knowing the outcome, which is instead to be resolved in the next instalment of the Blurb. Downe certainly knows how to create an instant devotee, these scripts are just supremely well written and draw you fully into their world.
The final section, the "Fractures Three" is a hilarious psychological interrogation of various super-heroes and villains under the auspices of the Police. None are terribly co-operative, and Downe is playing with the idea of just how conscious of their powers and super-being these folk are, together with that split between the ordinary mortal self and that of the almost demi-god enabled by their powers. More of this as well to come in the future I hope.
So surrender yourself to the world built by Kneel Downe, Virulent Blurb: Fractures. A fractured world to be sure, but one erected on weighty linguistic and ideational foundations. Kneel down at the creative forge of Kneel Downe.