Thursday, October 18, 2012

Review: Wake Up and Dream by Ian R. MacLeod

Guest post by Kieran Colfer.
Hollywoodland, 1940. The age of the "Talkies" is over. Just like talking pictures replaced the silent movies, the talkies have been replace by the "Feelies", a new breakthrough in cinema technology. Meanwhile, war clouds are gathering in Europe, while at home an unpopular President Rooselvelt is facing a new challenge by the new far-right Liberty Party. Down-on-his-luck actor-turned-private-investigator Clark Gable has just been given a a rather strange case by a woman whose husband, a famous but reclusive screenwriter, has disappeared. Instead of finding him however, his job is to impersonate him and sign a contract for his latest film. Piece of cake, right? You know what they say though about jobs that look too good to be true....

The AH aspect of Wake Up and Dream by Ian R. MacLeod (winner of the for 2011 Best
Long-Form Alternate History Sidewise Award)  is quite subtly worked into the narrative. After an initial "setting the scene", the first half is the sort of pure detective story that any fan of Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy would be familiar with. For me, not being a fan of this genre, this is the one part of the novel that dragged a bit, but things pick up again once the "conspiracy" starts to be revealed - why was Daniel still doing research when the screenplay was already written, and what is "thrasis"?

Gradually a world slightly different from ours starts to be revealed, how the movie empires we are familiar with have crumbled, and how life is great for a white man in California, but no so great if you're black, Jewish or Hispanic. Along the way we get to meet some other familiar former Hollywood icons as minor characters, like "Howie" Hughes, the maintenance man in the local lunatic asylum. We also get to see an interesting side to the actor's (or former-actor's) personality: how easy it is to go from the verge of stardom to complete obscurity, and how the lines between the actor and the character they are playing can sometimes become blurred. And as things build up to a climax, there are some nice plot twists that will keep you in the dark until right up to the end. Is there an element of the supernatural behind all this? Is up to you to figure out.

All in all, this was an enjoyable read, although there was one element in it I would have liked to see a bit more of. In the novel, we see an America cheerfully sleep-walking itself into fascism, but there's no mention of where the Liberty Party came from, or how it got to be as big as it is. Its use in the narrative as just something everyone knows about already is well worked in, but it does leave you (well, me anyway) wanting to know more about it. Maybe there's another novel there?

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Kieran Colfer is a member of the AH Weekly Update Review Team.

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