Skip to main content



Kurt Schuett (Bad Day Books 2014, ) 294 pages $10.84 cover price

In the beginning, there is a very good first chapter title: In the Beginning, There Was Unemployment. What separates Kurt Schuett's novel Insurgency from the growing numbers of reader-disturbing apocalyptic fiction is that this novel is grounded in an understanding of why a mass of people may revolt and turn to terror. After all, it truly is in the eye of the beholder as a famous old political cartoon of Ronald Reagan put it, which ones are the insurgents and which ones are the freedom fighters?

Imagine, as Schuett did, a group of people who have become so disaffected and disenfranchised by society that they wish to strike back against it. How best to go about that? There are of course the usual methods: bombing, kidnapping, or perhaps attacking corporate computers. All have proven successful in both the worlds of reality and fiction, yet all are limited. Not to sound utterly callous about it, but a bomb destroys one building, kills those unfortunate enough to be in its immediate vicinity, and the result is that the corporate state clamps down even firmer on the aggrieved. Would it not be much more effective to destroy from within, by turning the comfortable into the uncomfortable? Yes, it would be much more effective to turn the weakness of the target against itself.

So what then is the targeted weakness in the people of Insurgency's Chicago? There is a simple one word answer: drugs. And so it is that the insurgents here invent a narcotic named Red Phase, with one assumed the name chosen from making the takers 'see red.' As one of Schuett's characters describes the effect, “This Red Phase supposedly numbs people entirely, causes them to become hyperactive, aggressive, and can cause both euphoric and paranoid reactions, depending on the individual.” Flood the street market with this stuff and enough of the subconsciously angry – even the consciously bored – would transform from so many mild-mannered Bruce Banners into legions of raging Incredible Hulks. Smash!

This, one must say, is an excellent set-up for a novel; so the question then is, how well does the author execute it? The answer is, very well indeed. His protagonist Alan Schultz is just another guy who works at a dull office job (he marks standardized tests for a living – lucky him!) who has a shot of Red Phase slipped into his Friday after-work drink. Complications arise, in the form of a trail of dead bodies that are the result of Alan murdering them, as he realizes to his horror when the effects of the drug wear off. He is this resolved to set things right.

Where Schuett is absolutely brilliant in his plotting is in describing what the reaction of government is to this latest pandemic. There is a G-20 Summit planned for Chicago. Yes, it is ludicrous to put such an event in a large city, but on the other hand that is exactly what happened in Toronto just a few years ago. Thus, the corporate state cracks down on personal liberties, the streets are armed with the National Guard, and with that as the result it becomes an interesting debate as to whether or not the drug lord insurgents actually have won. The nation is destroying itself from within.

I note from his biography that Kurt Schuett is also an award-winning poet. It shows. It shows not in the way one might reflexively expect – he is in no way a florid or purple writer. No, he understands the economy and vivacity of words; how words can manipulate a mood with equal (yet hopefully more benign) effect that a Red Phase drug. I truly look forward to reading more of his work.


Popular posts from this blog

The Blocks by Karl Parkinson

The Blocks

Karl Parkinson (New Binary Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 274 pages, cover price N/A

There's a tremendous irony in our lives you know, and it is one as large and predominant as the oxygen we breathe yet equally as invisible, equally ignored; an irony as imperceptible as the blood within our veins that itself only comes to our notice when the skin breaks and the blood trickles free before we hide the wound with a bandage and secure the blood back where it belongs. That irony is this: Our most basic desire, expressed in equal parts of hope and fear, is that we want to continue to live. And why? Because we want our individual lives to be different than what they are.
Karl Parkinson's first novel, The Blocks is a mad, tragic, stylish and daring exploration into that self-same need to survive and yet to change. The Blocks of the title themselves are neither those of the prison nor a child's alphabet; at least not literally although the reader may rightly infer those meta…

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada edition 2016, Hard Cover) 197 pages, $29.95 cover price
We have to talk about the concept first. Oh I had a long and lively internal debate about it, you can be sure of that. After all, all books have concepts that we accept without too much fuss – talking animals, sentient corpses, thought-filled trees, the whole Harrod's bought stuffed menagerie of Winnie the Pooh carrying on like a picnic gathering of the British Women's Institute with special invited guests from the Royal Society of St George – we accept all of those without too much fuss. I've even admitted to sniffing up a tear or two over The Brave Little Toaster, so if one can be moved by a bloody kitchen appliance then why not a sentient foetus as the central character of Ian McEwan's Nutshell?It probably won't surprise you that I have a theory to go with that, slightly more substantial than an amuse-bouche if not quite a meal in itself. My thinking is that we go with the ta…

White and Red Cherries by Tanja Tuma

White and Red Cherries: A Slovenian Civil War Novel

Tanja Tuma (Self-published 2016, Trade paperback) 301 pages with glossary and bibliography, cover price n/a
It dawned on me like a thunder strikes a tree: this petite young girl embodies a mission, her reason to exist. Every one of us embodies his mission by what he does. We are what we do. Not chemical elements, but our deeds define our being. We are neither the faith we trust in God, nor the love we give and take. The least of what we are is the genetic code we get from our parents, which in turn lives on in our descendants. No. We are what we do at this moment in this bloody world. Our deeds can defy eternity. They can mirror our will and freedom forever. Those words are thoughts by the elderly Martin, born during the Second World War and raised by the partisan heroine Valeria Batič as her son, when his natural mother Ada quite literally tossed her baby from a train window to Valeria as the train pulled out for Vienna. Ada you see w…