Books: From chariots of wire to Starship Kurt
Liz Jensen says that weird fiction should stay within a human orbit; The Astrological Diary of God by Bo Fowler Jonathan Cape, pounds 10, 296pp
Saturday 03 April 1999
Fowler's first novel, Scepticism Inc, took a shopping trolley as its inanimate hero, queuing up at the checkout behind Tibor Fischer's Etruscan vase (The Collector Collector). Now, chariots of wire behind him, Fowler's second foray to the outer limits of the human imagination charts the zodiac- infested life and times of a Japanese ex-kamikaze pilot who has been put on trial for the killing of Time. As befits a writer under the double influence of Star Trek and Kurt Vonnegut, Fowler's mission seems clear: to seek out new fictional worlds, and to boldly go where no storyteller has gone before.
What a wacky guy Japs Eye Fontanelle the Thrice Great One is. He has a hole in his head, thanks to a collision with a giant golden phallus. He has no testicles (accidental castration by astrolabe). He also suffers from a verbal tic which forces him to switch bafflingly between first and third-person narration, as in "God has often wondered about that myself".
God's story follows the chronology of a life spanning birth to the present day via the Second World War, in which he recalls his discovery of Astrology, his realisation that he is the deity, and the ups and downs of his celestial tackle. As a world class masturbator with a world-class ego, Zodiac Man is convinced he is spawning galaxies from his ejaculate. He woos the glamorous "paraspermologist" who investigates the star-spangled spunkorama which is the product of his orgasms.
Then, woe of woes, Japs loses his Celestial Balls. Meanwhile the UN has labelled him, in his role as God, as Public Enemy Number One. So he's put on trial ... You get the gist.
Although Fowler makes a brave attempt to pull it all together at the end, it's too little, too late: the star ship has long since spiralled off on its own relentless and strangely mirthless exercise in kookiness, sucked into the black hole called Weird. Weird can be good. Weird can be funny. But weird for weird's sake is a dismal thing to behold, and in The Astrological Diary of God, we behold it at length. As any star- fleet captain can tell you, inter-galactic explorers run risks. The greatest being the loss of the very thing that sent them hurtling through space: their humanity.
Like Vonnegut, Fowler has a dexterity with the running gag ("Virgo women are vegetarians, and are turned on by hotel rooms and boxer shorts. Their lucky soup is tomato") and a penchant for facts and figures. But he has neither the heart, the soul, the storytelling genius nor the sheer anger of Vonnegut - only the technical mastery of the devoted mimic.
If Bo Fowler were a bad writer with no talent, none of this would matter But he is clever, and he can also be funny. Importantly, he has ideas, too. Perhaps when he has the courage and confidence to cast off his Kurt Vonnegut outfit, the true Bo Fowler will reveal himself. Then, I suspect, we will see something interesting and exciting emerge.
In the meantime, girls, we must content ourselves with the photograph of his genitalia on page 135.
Warp factor ten.
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