American Nightmares – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson Let’s Rock Book Review

What hits you with this book is the visceral thrill of riding through the Nevada desert in an old roofless Cadillac with the warm desert wind blowing into your face as you head to the messed up town of Las Vegas in a more messed up state and the intention of messing everything up in the process. There are a wealth of insane and deranged characters that you meet along the way. Mostly it’s the straight-laced, orderly members of society who are the most insane ones, but there are plenty of unhinged others en route as well, including Thompson’s dangerously erratic Samoan travelling companion and lawyer named Dr Gonzo.

When writing the novel, Hunter S. Thompson was drafted in to go on a trip to report on a desert car rally for Rolling Stone in 1970, but got distracted along the way and went looking for The American Dream instead, as well as taking in a suitcase load of illegal substances. The book encompasses the acts and scenes that ensued, which may or may not have been completely true as they happened, but must be near enough to the case to have been printed as they were reported.

Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, depicts the moment that the civil rights movement in America reached its peak and then subsided, leaving before it a waste of burnt out freaks with nowhere to go and a country that was hanging them out to dry. Thompson summarises this perfectly in his book, astutely lancing many of the contemporary morays of his day, and predicting many more victims of the fallout. Ralph Steadman’s scabrous illustrations enhance the mood superbly, his frazzled, acid-scarred style scorching through the pages and into the retina of the readers like the harsh, unforgiving Vegas sunlight.

The protagonists venture onwards to, where else, but a National District Attorneys Association’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, where they observe the inadequacies and absurdities of US federal drug laws, and then continue down a Death Valley cruise through narcotic Hades to the outer limits of their own sanity and the legal boundaries of acceptable human behaviour and decency. We find we, and Western society itself, at the end of the line, shattered and broken and thirsty. Thompson was a visionary and prophet for our time, which is no wonder he was ignored and ridiculed for most of his life, and a long time afterwards except for by a cult of true believers in his hallowed, revolutionary words. It’s also no small wonder he blew himself away with a shotgun after having to sit through more than one term of President George W. Bush. Thompson had had enough, and nobody could blame him one iota (although many did). Dr Gonzo also met an unusual fate, but that isn’t explored in the book, so you can find out what happened to him yourself. For now, let’s just consider the legacy that this trailblazing book has left us, its linguistic zing and its revelatory content. We shall not see the likes of them again, but we can get a taste of their exhilirating, free-spirited world by reading this book.



Join the Club – Terry Pratchett’s Thud! Let’s Rock Book Review

When two tribes go to war it makes for quite an interesting background to a novel, especially if it’s set on the irascible Discworld and features sparring factions of disgruntled dwarves and tumultuous trolls. A new caste of dwarves has emerged, the Deep Downers, who have taken over many dwarven areas (underground, mostly) with their zealous religious dwarf doctrine. These attitudes are even sweeping through Ankh Morpork, largest city of The Disc, perniciously drilling its way to the core of the city dwarfs’ values. When a murder occurs in one of the shafts in highly suspicious circumstances, the City Watch, headed by jaded copper Commander Vimes, step, or perhaps saunter, assertively in to investigate. Since it’s a dwarf that has been killed, the finger of blame is immediately pointed at the trolls, their constant adversaries, raking up long-held resentments that go all the way back to a dispute in the dangerous, often contested area of Koom Valley. Deep-rooted prejudices are tested and rekindled in some, but a rising figurehead for troll rights known as Mr Shine, who is partly made of diamond, so can think a lot quicker than the average rock-based troll, seems to be bringing in a new enlightened era, which of course the Deep Downers are keen to repress and disrupt.

Discworld Thud by Katzille from Deviantart

Vimes himself is keen to have as few disruptions as possible, seeing as how he has a young son to take care of, in particular at his story time at which he must be read the same story each day, and familial duties to make sure that he attends. This isn’t helped by the contribution of a small imp-based device that his wife has provided for him that interjects at inappropriate moments, leading to some wry, knowing comedy moments. The classic ‘bad cop, even worse cop’ tag team of Sergeant Colon and Private Nobby Nobbs do their best to assist the situation by using their initiative during an art robbery that they attempt to unravel to the best of their ability (their ability being considerably limited). Nobby’s love life also comes to the fore, when his amorous antics with Tawneee are revealed, in many laugh-out-loud incidents and escapades. The City Watch stumbles across the key to the unfolding mystery as Vimes ventures into the depths of Ankh Morpork where he follows a set of strange symbols through the mines that the Deep Downers have been digging. One of the new recruits, Salacia von Umperding, who just happens to be a vampire, accompanies him to use her formidable forensic skills to uncover some significant clues, which get gruesomely revealed, moments before a tunnel becomes flooded and they must escape to save their lives.

The trail leads them all the way to the Koom Valley itself, where the Watch are guests of their friend Rhys Rhysson, the Low King of the dwarves, who is attempting to modernise the dwarf outlook himself. Investigations continue as the fate of the age old rift between dwarfs and trolls is freshly opened, taking Vimes and his squad on a treacherous journey that means that he almost misses his story time with his son… almost.

That’s as much of the story as we need to retell, we think. To find out the rest, you’ll have to read it yourself, which we would strongly advise that you do. It’s a gripping read, with the bullish Vimes assuredly taking the lead in this solid, highly engaging Discworld novel. The supernatural element at work is a neat conceit, and it unravels at just the right pace to give the book a fully complete, neatly increasing trajectory that feels like you’re on a water rapid ride going through a ravine. It’s a real rush, and you may even end up slightly damp afterwards (but it’s well worth it)! A sturdy addition to the Discworld collection.


A Book with a Sting – The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks Let’s Rock Book Review

When you feel like plunging into a piece of modern (or is it post modern now, or post post modern even?) literature, you could do much worse than testing the unsettled waters of The Wasp Factory. The titular factory itself is explored in the book, so don’t worry, or perhaps, do worry after you’ve read about it.

The protagonist is Frank Cauldhame, a haunted figure who recounts the deaths of various family members with matter-of-fact readiness, and informs us about his still living, but not all present, family, including his eccentric father with whom he is encarcerated, his mother who abandoned him, and his very unbalanced brother, Eric.

Events develop in a perplexing, asymmetrical fashion, with Banks taking a delicious delight in wrong-footing the reader at almost every step (every step would have been too easy and predictable, but this is just right).

The crackling first-person prose sweeps the reader along on an assured journey, giving us a modern (or post post modern or whatever) classic and one of the more satisfyingly strange experiences of recent times. Not for those with a nervous disposition or a weak stomach.


Cooking Up a Storm – Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs Let’s Rock Review

There aren’t many books like Naked Lunch by William Seward Burroughs. Some might say that this is a good thing. Others might not. Whatever the case, this book is an incendiary piece of modern literature. It was scrawled in the burning pits of passion of post WWII Beat era bebop prose New York. All the rules of literature are destroyed in one fell swoop, swallowed whole, and then defecated out again in a small, but luxurious pile in a corner of a run down, cockroach-infested, rented apartment.

The characters featured in the book are searingly original, based somewhere between weird science fiction, exotic, dystopian wasteland dwellers, or decadent, deviant party-goers at the edge of oblivion. Many of them exist in The Interzone, such as AJ, with his raucous antics, the irascible Dr Benway, and many more, come screaming from the page.

The words in this book are like firecrackers exploding in the night. Wild imagination fizzes off every page from every line. This book just keeps on inventing, and is more cinematic than any film could achieve, far more than any book that has ever been released before or since. The humour is scorching hot too, as piercing and honest as any Lenny Bruce skit, but shot through with a psychotic, psychedelic mania.

This book is a node at the intersection of reality. If you read it, your brain will never be the same again.