I knew, going in, that I’d like The Fictional Man by Al Ewing; I like him a lot as a comic writer – His Zombo with Henry Flint in 2000AD currently is, without exaggeration, some of my favorite comics in years, smart and funny and self-aware without breaking from the melodramatic “sci-fi adventure” genre that the anthology specializes in – and the central concept, of a man in a world where clones of fictional characters exist, sounded promising. I didn’t know that I’d have such a strong reaction to it.
As I wrote in an email to a friend this morning, it’s not a perfect novel, but in a lot of ways, what frustrated me about it also worked for me in some strange way. It feels too short, and at least two threads feel as if they’re abandoned rather than fully developed, but even in that, I found myself reminded of writers who were once central to my idea of entertainment: Terry Southern (especially his The Magic Christian and Candy), Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier, pulpy and just a little sloppy work.
The central idea is, of course, not a million miles away from something Philip K. Dick would come up with, but the execution is more humanist and optimistic than Dick was capable of, I think (Yet something that still hangs on the idea of personal revelation and everything you know is wrong in some way, too). And outside of prose, I could sense Howard the Duck-era Steve Gerber in there, both in some of the more over-the-top media parody material, but also the humanism and embrace of the outsider and the freak.
There’s a lot to chew on in this book; more than it really lets itself chew on, perhaps – to say more would be to spoil the book, and I really don’t want to, because I want you all to go buy it. But this book left me feeling the same way that Dick, Vonnegut and Southern did, way back when, and for that alone, I’ll always love it.