May 05, 2016
(++++) APOCALYPSE WHEN?
The Everything Box. By Richard Kadrey. Harper Voyager. $24.99.
Richard Kadrey writes fast-paced, profane, darkly funny supernatural adventure/thriller/comedies in which, paradoxically, the paragraphs that bring the action to a screeching halt are some of the best. Kadrey has a unique and absolutely wonderful way with descriptive words, drawing on a mixture of keen real-world observation and familiarity with the wholly artificial world of Hollywood films to create passages like this one about Laurel Canyon, above Los Angeles, from The Everything Box: “Luckily, there were roads that twisted up and down the tortured ridges, or the only things that would have been there were hippies, backpackers, prairie dogs, and the occasional mountain lion dining on the aforementioned hippies, backpackers, and prairie dogs. Unfortunately, because of those roads and the billion-dollar real estate, the most common life-forms were douche bags, plastic surgeons, fading film producers, and labradoodles."
Kadrey is best known for his Sandman Slim novels, to which The Everything Box bears an entirely non-coincidental resemblance in its picaresque protagonist, his super-competent helper/girlfriend, the wild improbabilities of the plotting, and the inclusion of supernatural entities who are about as strife-ridden and narrow-minded as mere mortals and are equally prone to losing things, notably including the box of the title. That disappears while Kadrey is busy channeling Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel, with the box being misplaced by, yes, a stupid angel, who is licking his (its?) chops (do angels even have chops?) at the prospect of annihilating humanity once and for all after the Flood, but who discovers that the instrument of said annihilation is not where he thought he put it. Oops.
Thus begins a story that can be called “madcap” only because there is no stronger descriptor (“insanecap,” maybe?). Stretching from 4,000 years in the past to the present-day purview of the Department of Peculiar Science (as if you didn’t believe the government had one of them), the story focuses on magic-object-thief Coop and a motley and often marvelous supporting cast of guys, gals, goons, gonifs and the occasional zombie. There is, for example, a supernatural character who likes things to be orderly in exactly the same way that Al Capp’s cadaverous mountaineer Smilin’ Zack liked things to be quiet, as in “not moving or even breathing.” Kadrey’s character talks pleasantly to various people he encounters on his travels, immediately before eviscerating them, drowning them in newly straightened rivers, observing them scream in pain in traffic pileups caused by winding roads suddenly becoming straight ones, and so on. Yes, an all-around nice guy, and by no means the “nicest.” Yet the character creation is not Kadrey’s best point – it is the way the characters interact that makes The Everything Box such a pleasure (albeit a rather guilty one). Take those film references. In a mere two pages (208 and 209, to be specific), Coop asks a particularly unpleasant DPS agent, “What’s your plan, Keyser Söze?” And the agent comments, “So you say, Gandalf.” And Coop’s eventual squeeze tells the agent, “We’re trying to steal the Constitution. …Haven’t you seen the movie? There’s a treasure map on the back.”
Yet if it helps to have at least a passing familiarity with Hollywood excess when reading The Everything Box, it is scarcely necessary. What is necessary is appreciation of dialogue of the sort that Kadrey creates for Coop after a passing angel has exploded a nasty piece of work who was about to do Coop in: “You know, in the last few days, I’ve taken orders from a dead man, hung out with poltergeists, vampires, werewolves, people with tentacles, people with gills, and seen the inside of a turd submarine. After all that, I shouldn’t be surprised when someone tells me they’re an angel, but you know what? I am.” Also necessary is appreciation of what follows in the angel’s thoughts: “He’d forgotten about how hard it was for modern mortals to accept the concept of celestial creatures walking among them. The extent of their imaginations seemed limited to the certainty that cats were the best animals, extraterrestrials actually existed, Jim Morrison and Amelia Earhart were still alive and an item in Paris, and reptile people from the center of the Earth controlled all world governments. Only one of those things was true, but try explaining that to mortals.”
And now that that is cleared up – surely you didn’t expect Kadrey to say which of the items is true – readers can proceed to the italicized summation of “the plot so far” helpfully provided by Coop just before he attempts to break into a safe that is really a transdimensional portal disguised as a microwave oven: “Mr. Lemmy wants the box. The angel wants the box. The glee club and their wacko cult friends want the box. But no one knows where the box is. Except now, Bayliss says she does. If she’s right and the box is there, it might be my only chance to get it and save Morty. But if I gave it to Mr. Lemmy I’d be screwing over Bayliss, and Giselle would never forgive me for that.” Even without knowing all the characters to which the names refer, it is pretty clear that what we have here is complexity befitting – well, befitting a Richard Kadrey novel, with which it is difficult to make comparisons.
The Everything Box bids fair to become the start of an appealing new series for Kadrey, one with distinct overlap with elements of his Sandman Slim sequence but with enough individualized skewed peculiarity to stand on its own – or lurch and shamble about, anyway. Kadrey’s writing is a wholly engaging blend of the noir and the nasty, his characters are a mixture of the manic, the monstrous and the merely macabre, and his plots are horrifyingly hilarious (or hilariously horrifying; take your pick). The Everything Box may not be everything everybody wants it to be, but The Everything Box has everything an existing Kadrey fan – or someone who will soon become one – could wish for, all neatly wrapped and decorated with a beautiful Big Bang bow.