ads infinitum by Tony Russell Wayman was very hard to get into, but some readers may find the last half of the book well worth it, if you like the author’s style, wordy with wordplay and peppered with alliteration, with many descriptions as thick as Dickens.
In the most general terms the plot reminded me of Robert Heinlein’s Glory Road, with a major part of the novel a fantasy-quest, framed by a contemporary (near-future) setup and denouement.
It seems to me Wayman put much effort into writing on a micro level, refining each sentence and paragraph, while failing to put it all together as a compelling novel. It starts with a one chapter flash-forward to Peterkin, the protagonist, waking in a dream-like Commercialand setting, covering himself with a towel to tour a series of apparent commercial sets — bedrooms, kitchens, and baths with characters in various stages of cooking, cleaning, shaving, bathing, and et cetera-ing. This is probably supposed to be a hook; but it didn’t hook me, only hinted at a confusing kind of story I don’t like. The only reason I kept reading was that it hadn’t been reviewed yet and I wanted to find out if it got better (it did).
But the real problem with the book is that this first hook chapter is followed by a full fifty-pages of flashback to tell about Peterkin’s dreary, lonely life and how he gets to Commercialand. This part is heavily padded — even with the author injecting himself as a minor character who presents Peterkin with a manuscript, which Peterkin later pulls from his pocket to read in a waiting room; so we, too get to read this older story by Wayman–and it’s not bad, a short short horror story about a reporter spending the night in a wax museum. It fills a couple pages but has no relevance at all to the greater novel. I would have enjoyed the novel much more if this whole first part was reduced to a one or two page prologue.
Finally we’re back in Commercialand, and this longer part (about 160 pages) I think fantasy fans will like. It’s not as humorous as Terry Pratchett, not as serious as Tolkein, but entertaining with some rare gems, as Peterkin joins the lovely plumber Josephine, Ajax the white knight and other characters on a quest to overthrow J.G., the Jolly Green Giant, with cameos by Tony The Tiger & other advertising characters along the way (there are many references to 1960s commercials and advertising styles)…. And finally, the end is much better than the start — even if I didn’t completely understand it.
So, as a sci-fi fan but not a fantasy fan, I’d give ads infinitum 2 to 3 stars — but fantasy fans will like the 2nd half, and there were quite a few gems, so maybe it deserves 4; here are just a few quotations, starting with my favorite: “Not ‘I think, therefore I am,’ but, ‘I am in an other’s thought, therefore I am.'”
And here is a short sample of the best writing in the book: “But even as these thoughts dampened his mind, a spark of defiance struck itself between the mettle of his will and the flint of his determination to be gone from these parts. The tinder of his feelings ignited. ‘Well, to hell with you!'”
Here’s a one-sentence sample of the author’s style, that happens to contain one of several descriptions of the main characters:
“Leaving aside the matchless middle-classness of the mendicant Avon, which presumably must have suited well the mentality of the occupier of this mediocre mansion, there was himself, clad in dustry green tweeds and boots, and bearing on his chin the stubble of nearly three days, followed (as he glanced back along the line) by the psychedelically clad, red-faced, hard-hatted doggedness of Noah, in turn trailed by the slender- and green-limbed almost naked nixieness of Josephine, her green-booted strides paced by the bulking largeness of the looming Granny, sincere, rugged, and honest as anything conceived since “The Great Train Robbery” plunged the world of Western Thought into the world of Western Action; hotly pursued, with all friendly intent, by the white-armor-clad, clanking person of Ajax, spear at the ready, and obviously gripped, within his carapaced security, by a naked devotion to the cause of the Quest.”
And this is part of a long speech by a used car evangelist:
“If we don’t get more and more cars, preferably late-model ones, sold to more and more people, then the whole economy is going to collapse around us and leave us to face–the problem. If we don’t get this car off the lot and make room for another; if we don’t get this chick out of this bed and into the next; if we don’t arrange it so that the next dawn will see a blank and unpunched-carded day, unencumbered by the left-over problems of a predicated past; then, baby, we’re going to give ourselves time to think and in this day and age we don’t dare to think, in case the alternatives we think of are too awful, or in case we face the horrible fact that there is no alternative at all.”
“Ignorance is never confused with stupidity by the intelligent mind.”
“They confuse pity with compassion, sympathy with empathy, and conscience with consciousness. Can’t seem to see that to feel with is not the same as feeling for.”
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