The Armageddon Rag: A Novel
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62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2001
It seems quite appropriate that praise from Stephen King can be found on the back of this book. Like many of King's better novels, the "Rag", doesn't seem like a horror novel at the start. Instead, we are given an engaging mystery set in a real-life setting. But as you continue to turn the pages, you begin to get the sense that something is definitely not right, and eventually, we encounter the supernatural.
I highly recommend this book, but as I write this review, the question I ask myself is, "Exactly *whom* would I recommend it to?" When I first picked up the Rag, I was dubious. Of course I loved Song of Ice and Fire, and I found myself quite impressed with most of Martin's horror and sci-fi works as well... But I didn't have much confidence in an out-of-print horror book with a hippie/seventies/classic rock setting.
Fortunately, I read it anyway, or I would have missed out on one fabulous book.
But will YOU like it?
-If you occasionally find yourself enjoying episodes of VH1's Behind The Music, or the movie Almost Famous, you will appreciate Martin's meticulous attention to the music industry.
-If you are a fan of Stephen King, The Rag will make you feel right at home.
-And, if you've enjoyed any of Martin's other writings, you're sure to approve of his style here as well.
The bottom-line is, this is one book that truly doesn't deserve to be out-of-print, and thanks to Martin's rocketing popularity- it soon won't be. As soon as you can, give it a try!
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2010
I love Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series as much as the next person who loves morally complicated and narratively complex fantasy, but I will admit that the only reason I have this book is because someone at the publisher's booth gave it to me for free at the first New York Comic Convention, which was more than a few years ago. It's been sitting in the queue ever since. My copy is actually signed too, which I had forgotten about. Extra bonus!

So in a cost-for-entertainment analysis the book wins hands down. But what about a time-for-entertainment analysis? How does it make out there?

Not bad, actually. In what wasn't a departure for him at the time, the novel is basically a very subtle horror piece, but the kind that doesn't involve wolves or vampires or mummies. Instead, it brings forth kind of an existential problem: "Did I do all of that for nothing?"

The story is basically the aftermath of a 1960s counterculture that we always knew about but is slightly skewed. Sandy Blair is a fellow who was active in the sixties protesting and trying to mess with the system, only to now be much older and finding that the system kind of won, writing hack novels and wishing that he felt more fulfilled. Leaping on a chance to do a story for a magazine he once started about the murder of a promoter for perhaps the most famous rock band you've never heard of, he embarks on a long journey across the United States, and by doing so, travels deep into the tattered soul of the country.

Sort of. The main portion of the novel consists of Sandy visiting old friends in turn, many of which he hasn't spoken to in years, and thus discovering what they've been up to since those idealistic hippie days. In most cases, they haven't quite been living the dream, which sits better with some than with others. Some have turned to other forms for peace, withdrawing from the world entirely. Some have just said the heck with it and wholeheartedly part of the system. And some are doing what they can to change the world, just on a smaller scale and at a slower pace, but getting tired in the process. Because nothing really lasts forever.

If that was all the novel was about, it would be nothing more than a trifle, because it's nothing we haven't seen dealt with in other, more prominent places, and probably with a bit more sharpness. The idea of the grand views of the people who grew up in the sixties finding their fine goals and visions crashing on the rocky shores of the seventies and gasping for air before expiring isn't exactly new. Martin gets some extra mileage with it by making all these people detailed, even if as Sandy is going about his research they tend to fall into certain categories. "Person keeping the faith." Check. "Tool of the System." Check. "Embracer of New Age Faith." Check. You get the idea.

As I said, a subtle horror does exist here, in the sense of waking up one morning and realizing that all the wonderful goals you had as a young person ultimately mean nothing in the scheme of things, that you never actually meant them and that you've been gradually caving all these years, making your life hollow and meaningless. All you've done is grow fat and old, and become the very thing you hated. Worse, because you started off with good intentions. This is good stuff, but not enough to hang the novel on alone.

Where the novel succeeds is by hanging the emotional map onto the music of the sixties. And not just in the Baby Boomer, let's all sway to the music that we remember fondly sort of way, but by making this music part of their idealogical texture, it was the lifeblood and the soundtrack of their protests and arguments and triumphs, it seethed with their anger and soared with their victories, wept with their sorrow at the implacability of the system. Each and every person has vinyl engraved onto their souls, as for one of the few times in recent history art and entertainment and protest merged into one, and these people were part of it, in the center of it, scratching out chords and blasting their miseries and hopes through speakers. That is what he captures, and does it well. You may laugh today at seeing some aged hippie types, greying long hair and Woodstock shirts hanging out over guts getting all misty eyed over seeing whatever version of the Grateful Dead still exists, but here you can get a sense of why this actually meant something to them, how music made their concerns written large, and that each performer who died was as acute a loss to them as watching a soldier fall on the battlefield.

What's amazing is how Martin constructed a whole new mythology of music, adding in one of the biggest bands you've never heard of, the Nazgul, and not only making them feel like the best band your parents never cared about, but giving them a history that resonates as closely as the events that actually happened. We meet each member in turn as rumors circulate of them getting back together (difficult, with one member dead) but when that reunion actually happens and we start to follow that tour, we get deep into the heart of rock and roll, realizing that genius isn't easy, but elusive and that nostalgia isn't so much a sword as a pillow that could smother you in its sweetness.

The stuff with the band feels so realistic, their history so messily precise (even the lyrics aren't terrible) that it makes the horror stuff feel that much more grafted on. Those parts of the book feel half-hearted, as Martin only included them because he felt he had to, and the book never seems completely comfortable with getting involved in the supernatural, preferring to focus on Sandy's journey through a path he never paid much attention to the first time around. And when the novel's lens turns to the music, and its effect on the people at the time, it becomes especially incisive, making the Nazgul out to be a real band without slavishly turning them into another cliched "Behind the Music" special. They were the most famous band in the world, and their breakup wasn't their choice. How do you deal with that?

So what could have been thin and shallow winds up being impressively gripping due to Martin's hand with characters (his depiction of Slum, a man who found himself in the sixties and was subsequently broken by them, is amazingly poignant) and the incredible amount of thought that was put into the Nazgul's backstory. It's an uncomfortable nostalgia trip that doesn't look back on a world that was better, just a time when conflicts were more open, and suggests that if one wants to fight the same battles today, no matter how slow or tired or disillusioned one feels, it's still possible. You may just have to dig your fingernails in and tear away at the surface in order to reach the corruption.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2000
By now, this has to be a classic in the fantasy/horror field. I remember picking it up in as price-reduced overstock, simply for the astonishing artwork (the german edition) and that title. I have to say, that I'm still very thankful for that occasion. Not only has Mr. Martin delivered the best Werewolf-Novellla of all time (Skintrade) but the Song of Fire and Ice Series, that had reignited my interest in Fantasy after 15 years.
Thank you Mr. Martin.
I want a hardcover-reprint of this book. Now.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 26, 2012
After reading Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series and Fevre Dream, his writing and story-telling style has grown on me, and Armageddon Rag seemed like an interesting story line. And it lived up to that much, the plot was different and original, albeit very predictable, and only lightly infused with the suspense I've found throughout the rest of his novels. I did enjoy the book to a degree, but the story line became tedious and a bit boring half-way through the book. The end was a bit of a let-down as I could clearly see what was coming. Martin's talent for weaving plot twists didn't seem to be perfected when he wrote Armageddon Rag, and although I'd rate this book I don't think it'll make my list of re-reads.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2012
I loved loved loved Fevre Dream, which Martin wrote at about the same time. Brilliant, unique idea and very well crafted story. This is also a very interesting and unusual idea but the only reason I stuck with the book was to see it through to its (staggeringly obvious) conclusion. Didn't enjoy reading it as much, the storytelling isn't as strong, the characters not as interesting. Not sure I really understand these characters and maybe because I'm not a product of their time and movement, or maybe Martin doesn't succeed at making them appeal to a larger audience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Writers usually have a few stories that bounce around in their heads for years. Some of them eventually make it to the page, while others just circulate and create occasional moodiness or anxiety behind the scenes. As a bonafide, ex-commune hippie... politically, a real "man the barricades" kind of guy, vague feelings of guilt over how I, and my generation, seem to have lost the ideals that seemed so important back then have been circulating for years. I want to sincerely thank George Martin for this book. He has saved me the trouble of trying to confront these issues myself on paper and deal with the fallout.

The Armageddon Rag is a fast-paced mystery, but also a well-tuned personal introspection as the main character sorts through his feelings of "where did it all go?". I identified seamlessly with Sandy, his writer/movement reporter, as he comes to terms with how he fits into the swirling emotions and lost friendships that twenty years can bring as well as a horrific murder. The author uses the device of music lyrics and the music scene of the time to create a plausible connection with occult power and ghostly hordes, driven towards a final battle. He has to make peace with his own demons in order to be able to confront the actions of the demons that may be forcing mankind into perpetual violence and anguish. As a musician, also, I've found myself ascribing earth-changing power to the songs I grew up with, just as Sandy does.

The release date for this book, in 1982, was also important for me in understanding the character's anger and confusion as well as cultural perspectives that only the perspective of time can reveal. The writer's gentle affection for the tortured souls he writes about here (and in all his later work as well),left this reader with a distinct sense of redemption at the end of the book. Peace and Love and Brotherhood weren't just buzzwords, and they haven't died. They're waiting to be picked up and dusted off.

In all, for someone who maybe close to or a bit past sixty, especially anyone who lived the counter-culture, this book will be an enjoyable read, and may also help to lay your own demons down.

Thanks, Man.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2013
I like GRRM. I have read much/most of his catalog (not just the Song of Ice and Fire) and find this his least compelling stand alone. It is well written, but may simply be for an older crowd. The music and memories are from the late 60s-early 70s, about half a generation before me. If you are 50+ and enjoy paranormal fantasy, give it a go.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2012
[vague spoilers]
Set in the 80s (when it was written) this novel is a sort of "rock-n-roll horror mystery", about a novelist (closely modeled on the author?) who has trouble meeting publisher's deadlines. Instead he decides to play detective, investigating the recent death of a slimy 60s promoter. He sets out on a road trip in which he digs up former 60s buddies, while investigating his prime suspects - the surviving members of "the Nazgul", a fictional-but-legendary band known for its dark, Satanic, Tolkien-themed imagery, broken up since the assassination of their lead singer. Meanwhile the hero begins to find himself plagued by dark visions of undead hordes, blood, fire, and human sacrifice (themes we also see echoed in his unfinished "Ice and Fire" meganovel).

It sounds interesting, but runs too long, with anticlimatic results. I advise reading quickly, letting the "road trip" aspect of the novel wash over you, and not wasting mental energy trying to solve the murder mystery.

This novel sold poorly, and the author blames it for nearly killing his writing career. But it is no worse, and perhaps somewhat better, than his two prior novels (DYING OF THE LIGHT & FEVRE DREAM). I like that the author seems to have emerged somewhat from the nihilistic funk that drove DYING OF THE LIGHT.

But a quest for moral meaning that idolizes the lost 60s can only lead to a silly, unconvincing, result. The dark apocalyptic imagery (the most powerful aspect of this novel) is ultimately brushed aside as shadows on the wall, except that the defense raised against them seems far more illusory. Here, ultimately, is a story where people indulge in drugs, self-indulgence, open relationships, and sex with underage groupies, and no-one makes any real sacrifices or faces any any real consequences.

Yes, I am also against the Vietnam war on moral grounds, but this volume fails to refute the suspicion that what the counterculture movement was mainly about self-indulgent cowards trying to get laid. The characters vaguely talk of "ideals", but one is never sure what they mean, especially since what is portrayed as a climactic moral victory (the refusal to commit a senseless murder) is really just a victory of rational calculation: "Oops, I just realized this murder won't achieve the result I want. I guess I won't do it then. Hooray for my ideals." The novelist hero has contempt for former associates who are "sellouts", but it is unclear what that means. Absent any evidence that he has lived a better life, this comes across as envy and sour grapes. Later in the story, lack of funds motivates him to accept employment with one he suspects may be the devil himself. Was that "selling out"? I have no clue.

The climax does make a striking point about dualism (with which I don't necessarily disagree). This may be of interest to his "Ice & Fire" fans, since that unfinished meganovel also has raised dualistic themes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
This starts off really good and then sort of meanders, but if you are a fan from the 60's or 70's it sort of makes you wonder what could've been with certain groups. I kept feeling that Led Zepplin or Kiss we're going to jump off the pages. not my genre but some good feelings about lets all get together and see where it will lead. kept me reading to see where it was all going. not the best George RR Martin but wanted to see what else it he had in the pipes before Game of Thrones. He has definitely gotten better in his story telling.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2002
If a person can read this book without expecting it to be a Song of Ice and Fire Book, they will enhoy it. For some reason people i talk to that have read this book will say its not what they have come to expect from G. R. R. Martin! Well Duh! it was written 13 years before Game of Thrones and is about A rock band The Nazgul. So no, its not about winning the crown of the 7 kingdoms. It is however a facinating character driven story of a journalist/ex hippie trying to solve a ritualist murder of a music promoter of a band that has not played since their lead singer was assasinated on stage. G.R.R tells the story is an interesting way, as we follow Sandy the journalist around trying to get to the bottom of the mystery while finding out who he himself really is while visting his old hippie friends and seeing how time has altered their lives.

Buy this book, put on some good music and enjoy the ride...

(and for those of you that still want A Game of Thrones...There are some supernatural elements in this book)

Relic113
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