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Technicolor Ultra Mall
by Ryan Oakley
EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, 2011, $14.95, 327pp
Release Date: October 15, 2011

Speculative fiction is sometimes imagining a What if…; other times it is the exaggeration of what we have already made, like the Star Trek episode written during the 1960s with the last man of one race being hunted by the last man of another race, between whom is undying hatred because one is black-white and the other is white-black, left-side right-side. Technicolor Ultra Mall is Heath Ledger’s Joker crossed with Fox News and Snow Crash; it is the ultimate exaggeration shot through with flashes and ribbons of what if….

Malls are places we go to, but in TUC the underground mega-malls are where people live, and everything is for sale. Theme songs like leit-motifs twine through people’s brains like just another drug, every utterance is an advertisement or product placement, corpses are commodities. Red level, and most of Technicolor Ultra Mall takes place on Red Level, is the debtor’s prison-dumping ground-penal colony-urban ghetto that fuels the economy of all three. That’s where body parts come from, where everyone is on drugs, where advertisements pay for themselves, and it’s fuzzy whether life is a shopping spree or a danse macabre.

The characters, mainly Budgie, Griff, Harmony, Sitcom, and Bob Anger, live and destroy themselves and each other in this world of artifice and violent amusement. Some are trying to survive, some are trying to manipulate their world, others are trying to preserve a part of themselves that the world wants to eat alive.

The writing is hellish, brilliant, stellar and profane. It is dungheap, offal, and diamonds. Near the end, Sitcom explains what an apocalypse is, that it is a tearing away of the veil to reveal the heart of the matter. Oakley is definitely calling attention to the man behind the curtain, challenging readers to see themselves, and their secret hearts. Are you here? Or here? Or are you not here? Where do you live? ~~ Chris R. Paige

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