Mark Webb's Reviews > Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen
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Feb 18, 12

Read from February 02 to 19, 2012

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen is a post-apocalypse, noir novel set in a dystopian future Melbourne, Australia. Some kind of environmental disaster has rendered most of the world uninhabitable and somehow Melbourne is the only remaining city on Earth. Why Melbourne has been spared is never fully documented, but as a result there are nearly 20,000,000 people living in a world of acid rain, food shortages and general misery (except for those lucky (read rich) few that live in "The Dome", a sealed, climate controlled space covering the middle of the old CBD).

Floyd is a Seeker, a man forced by circumstance and enormous hospital bills for his dying wife to chase down "Deviants" and send them for Relocation. While Seekers are authorised to kill Deviants if necessary, he has managed to avoid doing so for most of his career. As the novel opens we find out that Floyd's death-free record has come to an end, and the guilt is driving him down a self destructive road (with mild amnesia thrown in). The novel chronicles an increasingly complex series of encounters as Floyd tries to remember why he killed the Deviant and deal with an increasingly hysterical public pressure to do something about the Deviant threat once and for all.

It is an interesting premise to the book and I liked the setting. The slowly crumbling infrastructure of a decaying outer Melbourne surrounding a pristine CBD where the tram just runs back and forth between a few inner city stops for the convenience of the uber-wealthy was well described and realised. I was interested in how you could sustain a city that large (current Melbourne infrastructure would struggle with such a big influx of people) when the rest of the world doesn't exist anymore (food production etc), which is never really explained but there are some hints through the book that perhaps the outside world isn't exactly how Floyd thinks it is.

Mr Bergen explores some topical ideas around the use of media manipulation to twist public perceptions to gain political advantage, with comment on everything from the impact of tight editing on what the public ends up seeing through to the use of "Cops" style reality TV shows to shape world view.

The novel goes for a Bladerunner style vibe - hard boiled detective/private investigator in a harsh, urban future. The constant presence of rain also adds to this effect. Floyd is a film buff, and the story is peppered with references to specific films and using those references to help frame the story and setting. As someone only vaguely familiar with the films discussed, I found those passages that relied heavily on the references a little difficult to follow. However, I suspect someone more intimately knowledgable about the noir film genre would really enjoy that aspect of the book.

It took me a while to get through the novel, with quite a few stops and starts over the last couple of weeks. With some dream like sequences (the Seeker organisation have a virtual reality style testing ground), there were a few abrupt transitions that through me off track a little. There were a few excellent sections of the book, but sometimes they didn't seem to gel together very well. I've read in a few places that as a new author you should try and cut at least 10% out of your first draft to really tighten up the pace of the story. The novel could have done with some of that style of reduction through the editing process I think - some of the sections repeated ideas and concepts that had already been gotten across earlier in the book.

Floyd was depicted as a man letting his life slide out of control and that came over well. However, his motivations swung quite widely chapter to chapter and I found that this, along with some of the dialog, lent an air of incoherence that I couldn't quite get into.

I loved the aesthetic of the artwork and chapter layout. It lent an art-deco style feel to the work which seemed very in line with the atmosphere the author was going for.

I came across this book when the author sent me an electronic copy version via email. It was free, but if you go to the publishers website (Another Sky Press) you see that anyone is able to get an electronic copy for free. They work on a "neo-patronage" model, where they provide books at cost (physical) or for free (electronic) and then ask readers to donate to the author if they like the book. An interesting model, will be interesting to see if they can sustain it. I suspect that this model requires authors to do a lot of their own promotion (hence the email from Mr Bergen), but then again authors are being asked to do that a lot now anyway!

Overall, I think this was an interesting premise reasonably executed with perhaps some tightening up required during the editing phase. But here is the real test - did I actually donate any money to the author once I'd finished the book? I'm pleased to say that I did become a neo-patron this morning. I certainly felt I was entertained enough to pay at least the same kind of money I pay for a lot of Kindle books on Amazon.

I also reviewed this book on my website.
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