Monday, 26 February 2007

I Eat Fog

Steve Aylett: Lint

One popular way of starting a review is to say something along the lines of "I approached this book/film/album/fruit with caution, scared that it would dissapoint/appal/enlarge my thumb etc". This review will start in the opposing manner: I was really looking forward to reading this. From the first moment of reading the back blurb (excitingly peppered with glowing quotes from Heroic God heads Alan Moore and Michael Moorcock) and finding out that it was Aylett's biography of "Cult-figure and pariah", sci-fi author Jeff Lint. The genius behind such classics as 'Jelly Result', 'The Stupid Conversation' and the strangest comic book ever created, 'The Caterer'.

The fact that Jeff Lint never existed and was, of course, the whimsical creation of Aylett himself just made the whole package even more irresistable. I'm a sucker for invented histories and hoaxes and this one, with it's overtones of psychedelic sci-fi, cult fiction and subcultural strangeitude, sounded so up my street that it could've been knocking on my door asking to borrow a teabag.

I've got a lot of time for Steve Aylett, not that I would call myself a particularly big fan of his books (although I enjoyed his millenial, Invisibles-style romp 'Shamanspace' a great deal), but rather because he has that un-fakeable air of one-of-us-ness about him. Someone who's record collection probably looks a bit like mine, likes the same books and whom I'd enjoy sharing a pint with.

My problem with Aylett is his writing style. For those that haven't read him it can be summed up very swiftly thus: Steve Aylett likes jokes. Really likes them. And it helps if you like them too as every book of his features great scads of the bloody things dripping off the page like jam off a baby's bib.

This is not a problem in itself of course, who doesn't like a joke? Misers and popes, that's who. None of who's company you'd want to be in during a lock-in. The problem with Aylett is that his delivery, which rivals that of a tennis server in terms of speed and accuracy, gets in the way of other aspects a good novel needs, namely characters, plot and empathy on the part of the reader.

This is especially true here. For the conceit to work you need to at least partly believe in the existence of his protagonist, Jeff Lint: loner author of 'Doomed and Confident', 'I Blame Ferns' and (my personal favourite) 'I Eat Fog'. However dear Jeff is never really spotted at all. He has no character to speak of and simply announces his presence through a series of escalatingly strange events, such as becoming obsessed with placing ramps everywhere, inventing the world's strangest cartoon: 'Catty and the Major' and writing a script for a Firbankian comedy of manners, 'Frightful Murder at Hampton Place', that later got sold to MGM, relocated to New York and filmed as 'Shaft'.

It is obvious that Aylett is a phenomenal ideas man, and the descriptions of Lint's published works are very tantalising indeed, making one wonder if Aylett has simply used Lint as a dumping ground for some of his more unworkable book ideas. Lint's proposed Star Trek script, in particular singles itself out as a minor masterpiece, and all the novels have that 'just believable' feel that a good spoof needs. Also here in abundance is Aylett's obvious love and respect for the genre he is sending up, essential for any good literary piss-take.

Of course the problem with reviewing a book like this is that any criticisms simply evaporate under the weight of the jokes, which are nearly all hilarious. The scene ends up something like this:

"Oh, I'm not sure he should be using so many...HA!...jokes. Maybe he should...HAHAHAHAHA!!!...try restraining himself a...SNORT!...bit. I'm not sure all the characters are that...HOHAHAHAHAHO!!!...believable"

Y'see? Silly, isn't it? I was up half the night reading exerts from this to my girlfriend, who was trying to get to sleep at the time and still found them funny. This is practically unheard of, so Aylett is definitely on to something here.

In the end sheer weight of ideas wins through (as, I suppose, it always should. Well, certainly if you're a science fiction fan anyway). There is simply no way I can think of that you will not enjoy this book. It's fast paced, hilarious and dosed to the eyeballs with comic invention. I just can't help but feel a little dissapointed that in the end, after 182 pages, I still didn't feel I knew anything about its strange protagonist. The biggest emptiness at the heart of Lint, it seems, is that of the titular character himself.

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