Rock Manning Goes For Broke
by Charlie Jane Anders
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Wow, what a ride! I'm not sure I can do this story justice, but I'll try. Thanks to Charlie Jane, Net Galley, and Subterranean Press for the free e-book in exchange for an honest review.
Think Jackass on acid. Rock Manning was probably destined to star in a series of gonzo films uploaded to Yanger, a future internet venue. His father was a stunt man in cheap TV movies, although he had hoped for a more prestigious career since he thought he resembled Jared Gilmore. Instead, due to constant harassment, Gilmore issued a restraining order. He was fond of throwing Rock off the roof, in the hopes he'd learn how to land and roll to avoid injury. Rock was cool with that, since he was fascinated by the physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, as well as the martial arts wizardry of Jackie Chan. He would watch their old movies at night under his quilt on a laptop his parents didn't know he had. At school he was continually being bullied, but used those times to perfect his falls and tumbles. Sally Hamster was another who mocked him at first, but she later recruited him for her extemporaneous films. Rock went along with it, even though he was frequently injured, with cracked or broken bones, and occasional concussions.
It's set in an indeterminate future, with social unrest, a debt crisis, and a seemingly perpetual war between America and the Pan-Asian Ecumen. It is rumored the Asians have flooded the US with powerful synthetic opioids, with the government placing blame for the unrest on them. Except...it is possible the Ecumen is a fictitious boogeyman to distract from the government's malfeasance. All through this chaos, Rock and Sally make their movies, which are popular, helping their friends and followers ignore what's really happening. The draft has been reinstated, Rock's older brother happy to be called, but Rock fears it will mean sure death for him, to be avoided at all costs. Sally goes to Boston University, and Rock tags along. She wants to be a serious filmmaker yet still works with him on their gonzo films on weekends. They plan to film at a war protest march, but an old high-school nemesis, now leader of a reactionary militia, ruins the experience for them, most tragically for Sally's boyfriend.
Rock narrates his own story, at an insanely frenetic pace, with a kaleidoscopic view of the world. It's just a novella, quickly read due to the stream of consciousness style. At times it seems he is unaware of the tragedy all around him, then he'll say something insightful and cogent, it's apparent he's a lot smarter than anyone thinks, himself included. Every time I cringed at one of his injuries, the next paragraph had me howling with laughter from his quips. The films are plotless, but feature extravagant characters in whatever costumes and props are available. Skateboarders vs. Vikings! Vacuum cleaner salesmen battling Roman gladiators! Steampunk Mafia! Amish Cyborgs! Even the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. Such a fast pace, so many twists and turns. I loved it even as I felt every pain and heartache as Rock experienced them. It's possible I also suffered a concussion while reading, or at least a few bruises. Highly recommended.
Rock Manning Goes For Broke was published September 30 by Subterranean Press. That link is for a special hardcover edition, which I'd love to have, but unfortunately it's beyond my budget. When I first posted this review that was the only pre-order listed, but now it's also available for Kindle at a very reasonable price, and I assume for other e-readers as well. Highly recommended. Again, thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this incredible story early.
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