A Pulp Science Fiction novel by D. Harlan Wilson
ISBN: (PB) • ISBN 978-1-935738-05-3
(HC) • ISBN 978-1-935738-04-06
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press January 2011
198 pages • Trade Paperback & Hardcover • 6″ x 9”
‘…every spoken word is a message…’
Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
Recently, Max Bunny Sparber said that if a work is to be incomprehensible then do it deliberately. Reading Codename Prague brings this quote to mind quite frequently. Of course it is a work of genius: it might appear to contain pages of random thoughts but everything is mapped out.
In this bizzaro novel, an agent, Vincent Prague, impossibly assassinates The Nowhere Man with predictable yet random results. He is now a celebrity but this has awful repercussions with his limbs and life in constant jeopardy. Luckily he carries around his own spare parts. Prague’s mission is to crack a code but the plot isn’t important to this novel. It is in the writing that the reader luxuriates: sometimes so weird it seems that D. Harlan Wilson’s keyboard wrote the odd page by accident on its own, while others are a blend of streams of poetic consciousness.
Set in the near future and yet with many hark-backs to fifties detective genre, there is mild horror, science fiction and much humour on every page. Consider some examples: ‘The detectives were barely perceptible beneath the thick swathes of gore that caked them from fedora to flat feet.’ And the whole of Chapter 06 reflecting on Prague’s time in jail: ‘”Eighty-six, eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine, nrrrrrrr…”
He trailed off. He hadn’t been counting long. But there was nothing else to do. He grew bored of the count quicker than desired or anticipated. How long had he been incarcerated here? No more than a few hours. Maybe just a few minutes. Now what could he do?
This is what happened next: eighteen years passed…’
There are notions in the novel that paint the protagonist and his milieu in certain lights. For example he often encounters German names and language. Who can’t be fascinated by the way Germans accrete words so much a single word can’t fit over a doorway. Eg Wütendeswissenschaftlermunster (mad scientist monster) – five times on one page! Brilliant. The guttural feel of the German voice is echoed in actions and clothing. Methinks D. Harlan Wilson, or at least his characters, lean in fashion towards Deutch Erwache regalia – or Nazi chic Sturmabteiling attire, in Prague’s words.
A touch of SF is spiced through such as when Prague finds his shoelaces undone and he orders them to do themselves up. Weirdness can be equally relished in such descriptions as of a bell-hop’s sister, whose breasts are filled with low-sodium peanut butter and ‘her hips swung like a pendulum as she walked’. I’ve been looking at the rear of women in a new way since I read that. Wonder if it’ll wear off? Hope not.
Chapter 29 carries an editorial note that it should be deleted or the chapter should be the whole book. I can understand why – it is the epitome of bizarro – a long draught of ‘spenpalatine ganglionneuralgia (Margarita brain freeze) beautifully crafted.
The novel is full of stimulating one-liners – you don’t drown in a puddle of True Romance and there is even a sentence thus “. . . . . . . . . . .” ie full of itself. Such self-referential sentences, worthy of Douglas Hofstadter, pervades this book. There’s even a graphic chapter – chapter 48. I have to quote: ‘A man’s shadow elected to cast the man…’ Even the chapter numbers reach into decimal points then to negatives to the consternation of the narrator. Don’t worry, there is a surprise at the end. You’d think a bizarro novel, where the joy is more in the reading than the plot, would not have a ‘proper’ ending but you’d be wrong. A denouement unfolds with exposition guaranteed, but whether you’ll agree with it is up to you. Like other books, once you’ve paid for it, and read it, then it belongs to you not the author.
My congratulations to D. Harlan Wilson for an entertaining, head-hurting flamboyance called Codename Prague.”