You may be wondering about the title of this article. Let me explain.
I have recently been made aware of the writing of Mr Andrez Bergen, an Australian writer and musician, now living in Japan, and after reading the 3 books of his that I knew of, I wanted to spread the word. But when I contacted him (and after I embarrassing both myself and him with my fanboyish praise), he mentioned that he was working on a new novel, featuring SUPERHEROES!!! I un-ashamedly begged for the chance to preview it and he graciously agreed and we’ll be covering it on the podcast! 🙂
That of course meant that I then had to change the title of this article and this is what I came up with. Please send notes of adoration and/or prayers for my now condemned Soul to our usual email.
But I digress.
This article will cover Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude & The Condimental Op.
(Andrez also has an anthology called The Tobacco-Stained Sky but I haven’t read that – yet!)
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is set in post-apocalyptic Melbourne, Australia, so right off the bat I’m hooked. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to be reading a book set in my hometown, especially a post apocalyptic version of it! (the closest I’ve come is the comic Kranburn by Ben Michael Byrne). Most of the rest of the world is gone and Melbourne is often referred to as ‘the last city’. The rich and famous live comfortably opulent lives inside the Dome, which covers what used to be the Melbourne CBD. The poor and unwanted are forced to live in the harsh world outside the Dome, where crime is rife, the pollutants in the sky block 99% of the sun’s light, and acid rain is almost always falling. It is essentially a totalitarian state, where the Brazil-like government utilizes Blade Runner style Seekers to hunt down ‘Deviants’. Like all good totalitarian governments, the definition of a Deviant is broad and can change at a moments notice to include anyone they want to target at the time.
Our protagonist is Floyd, who was bullied into the life of a Seeker in order to pay off his wife’s huge debts after she is branded a Deviant and ‘hospitalised’. Most people don’t like going to hospital now, but in the world of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat all sane people try to avoid the hospital at all costs, as it is a nightmare place. He hates his job, but can’t escape it. And despite his gruff and sarcastic demeanor he is a sensitive soul so when he accidentally kills a female Deviant he was sent to arrest it really affects him. To help alleviate this and the dreariness of his life he seeks solace in booze, friends, and his beloved films.
It’s these films, especially noir classics such as The Big Sleep and The Third Man that help shape Floyd’s narrative and even his world view, with the main characters of these films providing him with his moral compass.
This gives the novel a great tech-noir feel that would instantly feel like home to any fan of Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), Philip K Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?/Blade Runner) or George Orwell (1984). It even touches on reality TV, cosmetic surgery obsession, & terrorism.
In a nutshell, the plot involves a conspiracy to manipulate the masses in order to gain control, with Floyd stuck in the middle as a unwilling pawn. I don’t want to give to much away, as I really want you to read this book. There is a touch of mystery involved, and to be honest it isn’t all that hard to figure out, but that doesn’t matter because the journey we take with Floyd as he figures it out is so much fun. And spending time with Floyd we really start to feel for him. His almost constant drunkenness, and the Department’s use of virtual reality like tests, twists his consciousness into a dream-like reality. Like all classic noir detectives, he pushes away those he cares for but it is when his lover is taken away to the Hospital and he is forced to defend his sister from Deviant terrorists, he ditches the booze and drugs in order to fight for justice and save his loved ones.
It sounds like all doom & gloom, but there is quite a bit of humor in this book as well, including an equally funny/frightening scene involving a cricketer friend of Floyd’s being arrested by the Cricket Police for missing a training session!
Andrez is very much a lover of classic cinema, and anyone with like-minded thoughts will instantly ‘get’ the reference of the title of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. As mentioned earlier, this is only the beginning of a slew of film and book references littered throughout the novel. I loved all of these little nods to the books and films that I’ve enjoyed myself over the years, but I do admit that I can see that they may scare or even annoy some people. Fear not however, as Andrez has included both a Tobacco-Stained Glossary and Encyclopedia Tobacciana to help you through 🙂
Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is an awesome book and I cannot recommend it enough.
It’s a tad hard to discuss One Hundred Years of Vicissitude as it’s plot follows on from from Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat and to discuss it in length would be quite a spoiler for it. But I’ll give it a go.
The story of One Hundred Years features the antagonist of Tobacco finding himself on journey through Purgatory, accompanied by Kohana, a young geisha. At first it seems to be all about her, but as they journey through her memories and her past, intermixed with scenes of moments from Japan during WWII, he learns that he must understand Kohana’s life in order to understand his own life/afterlife and finally be able to forgive himself.
It’s great that we get to learn more about the character from Tobacco. It gives us a chance to understand him a bit more. He is even a kind of What If? of Floyd, ie, what if Floyd didn’t have his moral compass? He would still be as witty and charming but for different, and perhaps even nefarious goals. He would in effect be much the same as One Hundred Year’s protagonist. Kohana is also a great character, and they play well off of each other, like the classic comedy duos or an even odder Odd Couple. But despite the wittiness it is also full of heart and is an emotional journey, and I challenge anyone not to be moved by its ending.
Due to the themes of the story, the writing style is quite different to Tobacco. Floyd’s usual pharmaceutically induced state often lead to periods of hyper reality, but One Hundred Years is more of a dream-like world that is constantly shifting, and requires a different prose style to accommodate it, and Andrez delivers – mostly. Which brings me to my only negative with the book. The plot is quite complex and the interesting writing style is quite clever, but is a little too haphazard. It almost requires the reader be sequestered in a darkened room in order to concentrate on it, not on a packed train, which is where I do most of my reading. It took me 2 read throughs to fully appreciate how brilliant this book is and that may annoy some readers. But that being said it is definitely worth the effort so if you are finding it a bit of a hard slog, my advice is to keep at it. You will be rewarded.
The word ‘vicissitude’ basically means ‘change’ and no book I have read personifies this more than One Hundred Years. As I said, it can be a challenge, but it is worth every second, and I guarantee it will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
The Condimental Op (a riff on A Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett), is a collection of short stories, comics, art, and articles, and serves as a kind of DVD Bonus Features for his work, especially Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat.
The cover is art by his (then 6 year old) daughter Cocoa 🙂
I love this sort of thing. I’m mad for Special Features. Want proof? I bought the blu-ray of Prometheus, a film a hated, just because it had a great collection of special features and I wanted to see if they redeemed the film in any way (they didn’t).
My favourite short story is Victor Victoria, a Biggles-ish type romp. Great stuff. Followed closely by Revert to Type, which features Andrez’s ‘Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane’, Roy & Suzie (who also show up in a couple of other stories).
It also includes some pieces on living in Japan, and if you’re interested in Andrez’s other career as a musician (as Little Nobody), you’ll be happy that he writes about the music industry as well.
Overall The Condimental Op is not as essential as his novels Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat & One Hundred Years of Vicissitude but they do make a great package, much like a DVD boxed set, and help round out the Andrez Bergen experience.
You can find Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat & One Hundred Years of Vicissitude on Amazon and Andrez has his own website at andrezbergen.wordpress.com. Please check out his work. You wont be disappointed. And stay tuned to our podcast, where we’ll be reviewing Andrez’s latest novel Who’s Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?.