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Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America Paperback – October 14, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
This sophomore effort from economics editor Slattery (Spaceman Blues) is a heavy-handed fable of a near-future America fallen into economic and social chaos. Marco Angelo Oliveira breaks out of prison, determined to rejoin the Slick Six, his family of supercriminals. He meets stiff opposition from the Aardvark, a mob boss who now runs New York City. Meanwhile, the nation has fragmented into squabbling regions, from the New Dominion of Virginia to the New Sioux of the plains; like Marco's gang, they see little reason to reunite. Complex secondary characters such as mob lawyer Jeannette Winderhoek and the less-feted members of the Slick Six somewhat balance the heavily stereotyped Marco and the Aardvark, adding vital color to this glacially slow, backstory-laden tale. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Slattery presents a hallucinatory vision of the end of America caused not by the usual sf culprits—disease, war, aliens—but by an entirely plausible economic collapse. What happens, he posits, when you lose the “laws and regulations but leave the capitalism”? The past returns with a vengeance, that’s what. Land is for the grabbing again, slavery reemerges, and Indians rise to reclaim their heritage. Notorious criminal the Aardvark, recognizing the opportunities in the slave trade, invests early and builds an empire, ruling from his Manhattan tower. Opposing him are the Slick Six, international criminals led by Marco, who intends a revolution out of which America can be reborn. Marco’s odyssey through a wasted America is full of legendary characters and strange sights, from the murdering circus of Cyclone Cal to the traveling home of the hippie Americoids. Slattery’s story is like a vivid dream with startlingly lucid moments, and his prose has the cadence of a spoken-word poet. He affords a kind of revelation about how history informs us as individuals and as a country. --Krista Hutley
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The ensuing riots and warmongering produce a hellacious world where slavery reappears and the ghosts of the past rise to walk the land. It's an amazing depiction of many cultural wrongs and excesses this country has engaged in.
And the story of the Slick Six is a compelling one that provides just enough to engage you, but not so much as to make you skip ahead. This story really is about America, not so much the Six, which other than Marco, seem to be vehicles for the larger story.
My one beef with the book was more stylistic. I'm not a big fan of long Faulkneresque paragraphs and this book had plenty of them. In addition the tangential movement between stories required an adjustment, but eventually started working for me. All in all, a great read that I highly recommend.
I won't spend too much time on the plot, as it's been summarized up above. I will say that the book is challenging to read. You have to work your way through narration that is dense and does, at times, feel like a drug trip. There are mystical elements and relationships not fully explained. You have to work as a reader and make some guesses, based on the way characters interact with each other, about what has come before.
On the other hand, I found the characters and situation compelling and morally challenging. You can understand how the villians got to where they are, and you certainly don't agree with everything the heroes do. I enjoyed thinking about what I would do if I were caught in this situation, and the author seemed to anticipate this, as very few courses of action are left unexplored, post-collapse. People were left with a host of bad options as they just tried to survive after the collapse. Do you grab what you can, knowing that it means that others will suffer and die? Do you give up your freedom for survival? Do you band up with others and hope you can defend yourselves and your things? I guess it's not really different than America today, but with the consequences turned up to 11.
Ultimately, for me, this book was worth the work. But, afterwards, I was ready to go back to a little light reading.
Although the catastrophe is chillingly possible, Slattery's story is also a comic book-like superhero story. The crime lord known as the Aardvark has taken over New York City and has his tendrils throughout the shattered country. Opposing him are a group of master thieves known as the Slick Six, though through much of the novel, they are disbanded. It is Marco, the master warrior in the sextet, who is intent on reuniting his ex-team and restore a semblance of law to the U.S.
To do this, Marco will have to cross a blighted continent where slavery is again a reality and the only law is that the strongest can take what they want. To the Aardvark, this is fine, but the Slick Six are a real threat. Before the collapse, they pulled off schemes almost magical in their complexity, combining their individual gifts to steal billions.
Slattery's second novel (I've not read the first) is part science fiction, part caper story and part literary novel, with a mix of both humor and horror. The main gripe I have is his jarring changes of scenes without even the standard section break between paragraphs; instead, you find yourself abruptly following a new character in a completely new location. It's a stylistic element that adds nothing but irritation, but it's really the only flaw. Otherwise, this is a pretty fun read, which probably will appeal the most to those who like superhero adventure stories; though it may be disguised as something more, that's what Liberation is.
However with Liberation I would say it was actually harder to pick up the rhythm than many of the older books I've read. Slattery has a habit of switching narratives with virtually no indication that he's doing so other than subtly referencing a place or name. He drops in and out of flashbacks regularly and it often takes a re-read of the paragraph (when you're suddenly confused) to work out exactly what he's talking about.
These complains aside the book was an excellent read. I enjoyed the characters and Slattery definitely has some lovely prose. The themes of the book were different to what I was expecting, but this was a good thing and I found myself really enjoying the more mystical element to the book by the end. Some themes that I did enjoy I felt could have been delved into a little deeper and I would have had no issue if the book was about 25% longer to delve into some of these themes.
I certainly felt it could have used a bit of editing to make the thing a bit more readable though.
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