Locus Magazine Review

Prince of Christler-Coke, Neal Barrett, Jr. (Golden Gryphon 1-930846-28-2, $25.95, 244pp, hc) September 2004. Cover by Nicholas Jainschigg.

Prince of Christler-Coke by Neil Barrett, Jr. is another buddy book, set in a wild far-future America where industrial tycoons and their brand names have become the new aristocracy, language seems to have been mangled by generations of hastily typed e-mails as much as natural evolution, but ridiculous young folks are just as they have always been. It belongs to a tradition that extends from the ancients through Shakespeare and on to Wodehouse, with American variations, where silly innocents fumble about both abroad and at home (some current examples: the Dumb and Dumber films and the adventures of the Hilton sisters). In this case two slackerish dethroned "princelings" — one black, one white — embark on a moveable comedy of errors that takes them, together or apart, across what used to be the good old USA.

. . . Asel and Ducky have been pampered all their lives and are completely unprepared to fend for themselves in any way, from getting dressed to using doorknobs. A handy plot summary by one of the pair relates what he has had to go through to that point:

Everything was stolen by corporate scalawags. I was unjustly sentenced to a penal institute. It was absolute hell. Completely middle-class. Double-knit suits. Faulty stereo. I escaped and stole a truck. Myself and a friend. We were taken by Rangers for a time. A person called Goodtime sold us to the Nones. I cannot describe the abuse and discomfort we suffered at their hands. Rebel acolytes finally set us free. Aeromachines from Califoggy State then tried to gun us down. I stumbled on gahlfers before I came here. I encountered something awful on the road. I can't even talk about that. . . .

As satire, this is more slapstick than subtle, riffing obviously on the last three decades of American life for its imagery and focusing on far-from-sympathetic characters. If things went on strictly in this vein, the book might have grown tedious pretty rapidly. In fact I was losing patience by page 50 — but it gradually won me over.

Prince of Christler-Coke turns out to be more than an endless series of captures, escapes, and rescues featuring a couple of incorrigible dolts. For one thing, the omniscient narrator doesn't share the circumscribed viewpoint and prose style of the main characters, leaving him free to create eloquent descriptions of some of the scenes they pass through and (more importantly) see through to their living hearts and minds; yes, they have them, even if it takes a while for such long-neglected attributes to make an appearance. And even slapstick-haters won't have to page through all the farce with a dour smile — after all, the Usual Suspects do make tempting targets, and Barrett can slice and dice them with panache.

— Faren Miller, Locus, September 2004


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