Book Review: Journey, A Short Story Volume I by Mykl Walsh

Journey, A Short Story Volume I begins in the year 10,001. An expedition team from Earth lands on a planet in a neighboring galaxy. Exploring the planet, they find that human-like life once existed on the planet a long time ago. While most signs of civilization are now gone, they still discover several preserved relics. Among the relics is a novel called SecretAgentMan by Richard Saunders. Here we take a break from the short story to read that novel.

Lawrence Ron Howard is the latest incarnation of The Defender. Previously having lived as brilliant and influential minds from Ptolemy to Albert Einstein, Howard is a natural genius. Born into a working class Irish Catholic family in 1956, the family moves up into the upper middle class after his father receives a job working as part of a secret government technology research project. This is where the rapidly developing technology of the latter half of the 2oth century first comes into play in Ron’s life.

Most of the chapters of SecretAgentMan are divided by year and structured so that they first tell about the significant events in Ron’s life, followed by notes about historical events that happened in the same year. The book claims that volume one ends in the year 1960 and that the remaining pages are are a sneak peak into volume two. Despite that, the remaining chapters covering 1994 to 2015 are much longer.

If you can’t tell so far, this book has an unconventional and a somewhat (probably intentionally) confusing structure.

In ancient times, forces of evil gathered from distant corners of the universe, united in their quest to achieve a common goal.

From this unholy alliance emerged a plan to launch a full-scale assault for control of the planet Earth.

God, in her infinite wisdom, anointed one spirit to lead the defense, sending The Chosen One on a journey of seemingly endless incarnations.

The premise of a chosen one fighting against an ever-present evil presented in a metafictional and historical context reminds me a lot of Prince Ombra. Like in Prince Ombra, the battle between good and evil isn’t a conventional one-on-one fight. In Prince Ombra, it was a psychological battle. In SecretAgentMan the forces of evil manipulate world events to fight Ron and bring the world to destruction.

For example, while Ron is a child, Satan works to flood the Catholic clergy with pedophiles, hoping one will get to Ron and psychologically destroy him. Ron avoids this as his church and school remain completely straight. When the scandal breaks in the Catholic Church during Ron’s adulthood, he creates an organization to introduce reforms in the Church. One of the many causes he takes in his fight against Satan’s influences.

Ron felt that he had to do something. The events of the last two years convinced him that the church had lost its way. He established a vehicle to carry the message of his vision of revolution and called it the Roman Catholic Reformation organization (RCRO). He set up a website at RCRO.uno in an attempt to incite a revolution of change whereby pressure from communicants all over the world would force church leaders to adopt radical reforms. It was immediately controversial.

There is a sub-plot detailing the development of the internet (that is historically accurate as far as I can tell) and as Ron becomes an adult, it becomes one of his key weapons.

The biggest risk of doing a book with a postmodern structure like this is in alienating the reader. However, like House of Leaves, the structure helps to make the book engaging  … for the most part.

That’s not to say that it all works. The penultimate chapter is probably the biggest blunder. In this chapter, Ron leads a class-action lawsuit against Daniel Trask (an obvious stand-in for Donald Trump) for age discrimination in his company. This chapter is told via an excerpt from Ron’s journal and a court document. For the most part, Ron was a likable character, but here there are several moments when he comes across as an arrogant prick.

I was happy that Trask did not lash out with any harsh words against me, but I cringed at that statement, because it was so poorly conceived and potentially damaging to Daniel Trask’s defense. Once again, had I been in his employ I could have counseled him and prevented him from releasing such an ill-conceived statement.

This isn’t too bad, but the court document that comes afterwards is an even bigger problem. Not only is it as dry a read as any real court paperwork, but the whole thing is nothing but a complete retelling of almost everything that Ron had told in his journal excerpt. This part could have easily been cut out with nothing being lost at all.

The purpose of this review is to look at the book by itself, but it is worth mentioning that this book is also part of an ARG the author is running. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, be sure to check out the URLs mentioned in the story as well as the book’s homepage, SecretAgentMan.org.

Journey, A Short Story: Volume I is, overall, a promising start to this series. It’s an ambitious postmodern mix of science fiction, fantasy and historical thriller that works very well for the most part. Personally, I’m looking forward to Volume 2.

______

4c4iIXqDBen Arzate lives in Des Moines, Iowa. His fiction and poetry has appeared in Ugly Babies, Bizarro Central, Spoilage, The Mustache Factor, Twenty Something Press, and Keep This Bag Away From Children. He blogs at http://dripdropdripdropdripdrop.blogspot.com/

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