Imagine a cyberpunk superhero movie written by Simon Pegg and directed by Michael Bay, in book form. That’s the short version of my review for David Wong’s third novel Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. Here’s the long version…
Fancy Suits is a very stylized book which reads like a very stylized movie. The scenes paint themselves vividly and effortlessly in your mind’s eye in grand cinematic fashion. The story takes place in a not too distant American future, in a Vegas like city called Tabula Ra$a. Wong joins the ranks of other science fiction authors in predicting some future technologies, many of which give off the smell of truth.
One of the main predictions is an evolved version of YouTube, known as Blink, which has almost everyone in the novel having some kind of camera on them – many have theirs built into advanced versions of google glasses, and these billions of cameras stream live to the Blink network which uses advance algorithms to rank the most interesting events unfolding for people to watch in real time.
The characters, while not particularly deep, are colorful and fun to cast as actors for the movie in your mind.
Another of the books most redeeming qualities is Wong’s signature humor which rose him to the rank of executive editor at Cracked magazine. I did feel like the jokes weren’t quite as funny or plentiful as in Spiders, but there was definitely some good laughs. Wong’s other signature talent is his originality. While Fancy Suits did a feel a bit more derivative than his last two works, it still manages to delight the imagination.
Also worth nothing that the hardcover version I purchased has a really sweet sleeve.
While the book reads like a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s one of those blockbusters that starts to drag in the second half. Jason Pargin (Wong’s real name) did an episode of the Cracked podcast back in the day where he spoke about how Hollywood movies had become formulaic to the point where a producer could just open a new script to a random page, say page 23, and if he doesn’t see the right ‘beats’ on that page he will immediately toss it aside.
That might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s probably not that far off. Pargin is a guy who has also studied these beats and knows them well. And it shows, almost painfully so. As the story progresses it felt more and more that there were certain scenes, certain setbacks for the protagonist that seemed just so bloody obligatory.
As a movie book, it also doesn’t hold up very well to any kind of critical scrutiny. Wong chooses to give himself a lot of freedom by writing law enforcement completely out of his novel and he does this by explaining that the privately funded city of Tabula Ra$a has it’s own government, or lack thereof, and that the police force all quit when they stopped getting paid.
What I really had a hard time ignoring was the fact that so much of the story revolves around the idea of horrific violence being live streamed over Blink. Even in a city with no government to speak of, this doesn’t make any sense. Imagine trying to upload snuff films to youtube. How long do you think your video will stay up? Yet on Blink there is billions of people watching torture porn and Wong never attempts to explain how this can be permissible.
Fancy Suits sort of reads like what Wong’s idea of a feminist novel must be, and this doesn’t do him any favors. Zoey Ashe is a boring character surrounded by interesting characters. She has no real skills or talents, apart from making cappuccinos, since she was a barista, and she puts this skill to use multiple times throughout the story. It’s like he wanted to write a novel about a ‘normal’ girl, in order to avoid writing a Mary Sue, but maybe over compensated and just ended up writing a damsel in distress novel from the viewpoint of the damsel.
There is also only three female characters in the novel, and they are all ‘good guys’ while men are demonized over and over across the span of the book. It sort of reeks of two dimensional virtue signaling, rather than good, nuanced writing. Where the novel really fails, in my view, is the main antagonist Molech who is modeled after a college frat bro. While this is played for laughs, and does manage to get several, it’s also another one of the aspects that makes it hard to take the story even somewhat seriously. Everything ends up being so cartoonish that there is never any of the suspense or horror that Wong managed to work into his first two books.
As a novel amongst novels, I would give this four stars. But I can’t help be disappointed as This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch it was one of my favorite novels of the last couple years. Wong is returning to the story of John and friend for his next novel, so here’s hoping it’s a return to form. As a Wong novel, I give Fancy Suits three stars.