Review: Major Karnage, by Gord Zajac

>>Published: September 2010

>>Finally got around to it: November 2010

“You can do it, Major!”

“Damn right, Cookie.”

“You’ve got the cojones, sir!”

“You got that right, Velasquez.”

“You’ve got it in you, sir!”

“Amen to that, Koch.”

“I’ve got faith in you, Major.”

“Is that you, Heckler?”

“You bet your ass it is, John.”

Karnage grinned. Now he knew he was hearing things. Old Heckler hadn’t spoken a word in years. Not since that day in Kandahar, the worst day of—

The War!

Battle and bullets and flames! Bombers buzzing as they fly overhead. Their payloads whining as they hurtle towards the scorched earth. The night sky strobin’ and flashin’ and pulsin’ like a goddamn disco inferno. Debris and dirt and mud and pain and screams fltin’ in all directions. Forward march, soldiers! Forward! Take ‘em all! Shoot and fire and kill and die-die-die—

Karnage slapped himself. The Sanity patch crooned “Citrus Blast” as the visions of battle faded, returning to the black expanse of starry night.

***

Major John Karnage has two problems: the sanity patch at the back of his head that will take his head off if he crosses from Strawberry Shortcake to Tricycle Red, and Unidentified Flying Objects of Death! Fortunately, neither matter is anything more than a minor obstacle to a grizzled, moderately unbalanced, former army battalion leader.

Major Karnage is author Gord Zajac’s first full novel, and it’s a beast of a unique colour. As a cross between a contemporary social satire (with the Dabney corporation and its long-dead originator, Galt, filling in nicely for Walt and the cultural weight the Disney corporation has had for decades now) and a send-up of classic sci-fi serials, it works largely on the strength of its quick-off-the-mark writing and genuinely witty characterizations—seriously, Stumpy? Great name.

The segment quoted at the start of this review is indicative of a large amount of the text and the speed at which it jumps around in tone, which is a terrific source of its humour. In fact, this is one of the few books I’ve read this year that has made me laugh out loud—in public, no less, because I just love getting “WTF” stares from passers-by. The chapters work to keep the pace as quick as the writing—rarely will you find one more than five or six pages in length.

Major Karnage was a great, sit-your-ass-down-and-lose-your-mind kind of a read—it reminded me, in a way, of what Spielberg and Lucas claimed to have been shooting for with the creation of Indiana Jones, a lovingly constructed tribute to the ‘50s adventure serial mindset. Though Karnage goes in the other direction, shooting for the travesty that will be the corporate designed far-flung future, the established tone is similar, the execution just as much of a blast to ride along with.

In fact, if I were to fault Major Karnage on any one thing, it would be that it sometimes felt as if it were trying to do too much; by balancing war-based insanity, questions of discarded troops and their worth in the aftermath of harsh and unforgiving war, religious zealots and the men (and women) behind the curtain, corporate dominance, social distortion, cloning, alien supremacy and hive minds, the book is able to maintain its roller coaster pace, but at the expense of deeper exploration into a few of these areas. In the end, though, I can’t decide what I would want trimmed, or if I would simply want a longer, more detailed read. But then there’s the conundrum of what that might do to the book’s already tight pacing. I can’t fault the book for taking on so much—I only wish there could have been more space to dive into some of the more compelling strands of plot. Make no mistake though, if you want to escape from the norm for a few hours, Major Karnage will satisfy your psychotic-alien-war-lust like few others.

“So come on, buddy. Let’s go. You and me: brain to brain. Cerebro a cerebro.”

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