Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is Nick Kolakowski's latest novel, and it marks a departure from his previous books, Boise Longpig Hunting Club and The Love and Bullets series. While those books all revolved around crime and had a somewhat hardboiled tone, Maxine is definitely science fiction. It is set in a world a few minutes in the future from today. But where it is consistent with the books Kolakowski has written earlier is in its tone. With each work, the author has gotten better at infusing pitch-black humor into his stories. I found some of the slapstick-laced violence in his first novella, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, to be a tad forced, but by Boise Longpig Hunting Club and Main Bad Guy, which take on such things as gun veneration and gentrification, among many other issues plaguing us today, the blending of action-packed, plot-driven narrative with satirical social commentary is nearly seamless. Science fiction, perhaps, is even a better fit for this sort of thing, so perhaps it's not surprising that the author has gone this route. Maxine is sci-fi of the utterly dystopian variety, something made clear immediately when we find ourselves in a watery Manhattan J.G. Ballard would have been proud of. Kolakowski makes a clear reference to Ballard, in fact, and lets us know that even though the world has become more of a mess than it is today, not every change has been for the worst:
Lower Manhattan now looks like Venice with a couple of added skyscrapers. Half of Brooklyn is out to sea on a tide of PBR cans and fake hipster mustaches. The latter case demonstrates, yet again, that every bad situation has a silver lining.
Throughout the book, in the best sci-fi tradition, Kolakowski takes the conditions in the world we live in now and extrapolates them to create his futuristic world. Clannishness and fragmentation have become worse; violence and lawlessness are prevalent nearly everywhere; drones fill the skies; between climate change and human disregard for creating waste, the environment is a disaster. All of this stuff is familiar sci-fi fare, but like with all good fiction, the pleasure lies in the details and presentation, and it here that Kolakowski excels, generally with the sardonic tone I've been talking about:
Just because weed was legal in the state didn't mean you could dodge huge penalties for smoking in public. In canal-laced Lower Manhattan, anyone caught puffing on the sidewalk ended up spending a week in isolation for the crime of "disrespecting communal airspace," if you could believe that crap.
This far north, the concept of local government grew teeth and claws. If you stuck to the highway, you would cross into territory controlled largely by the New York Giants, which had expanded beyond its origin as one of the nation's most consistently mediocre sports teams to control a big swath of towns northeast of Buffalo.
The book's title character is complicated and a fighter, someone who at almost all times occupies the underdog position, and the author brings her to life well. In a world so amoral and chaotic, survival is the first principle, and Maxine is dedicated to that. She'll do whatever she needs to in order to keep going in a world rife with dangers and menace, but that's not to say she has no warmth and lacks a sense of loyalty. You like Maxine and are rooting for her all the way.
Maxine's very name, of course, bring Mad Max to mind, and that and the Ballard reference are just two of the myriad allusions Kolakowski makes to other sci-fi books and sci-fi movies. William Gibson's novels, cyberpunk fiction in general, Ghost in the Shell and other Japanese anime - the list goes on and on, and I'm sure I didn't catch everything. Fans of dystopian fiction should love this book, and it should appeal to crime readers also, since a large chunk of the novel involves an elaborate heist. The heist is for something other than money, or anything that brings wealth, but Maxine's reasons for attempting it are completely understandable. And sympathetic.
Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a witty, fast book that makes the possible darkness of our future something of a blast. After all, more anarchy means less centralized power, and less centralized power means that those who now have nothing will have a better chance to hit the arrogant asses ruling things and make them hurt a little bit.
You can get Maxine Unleashes Doomsday here.