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Wave of Mutilation
Douglas Lain
Fantastic Planet Books, 100 pages

Wave of Mutilation
Douglas Lain
Douglas Lain is a fiction writer, blogger, copywriter, and most recently a "pop philosopher" for the popular blog Thought Catalog. His work has regularly appeared in nationally distributed literary magazines and journals such as Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and Amazing Stories since 1999, and his first book Last Week's Apocalypse was a collection of these stories published by Night Shade Books. His surreal nonfiction book Pick Your Battle was published in July of 2011 with Kickstarter funding. His first novel, entitled Billy Moon: 1968, is due out from Tor Books in 2013.

Douglas Lain Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Douglas Lain is a writer's writer, a thinker's writer, a political lefty's writer. If any of those match you, you're in luck: He has two new books out: a short novel, Wave of Mutilation, and a four-story collection, Fall into Time.

Back during the confusion of the 2000 elections, Christian is an architect whose father has died and phoned him to say that, due to a nuclear experiment gone awry, unreality is leaking from the world. Meanwhile, his pregnant wife, a woman who feels empty both literally and figuratively (her chest holds a vacant cabinet), begins spewing eggs from her mouth. Christian and his wife are then forced at gunpoint to exchange their clothes at neighborhood block party. As you may surmise, the plot itself is not the driver of the novel. Rather, the events are fuel for the reader to speed to other, underlying aspects of the narrative.

Humor, low-key and unobtrusive, suffuses the often surreal tale. When his friend Kevin pulls a gun, Christian asks about it:

  " 'It's a .32 I think. I bought it last winter in case the whole Y2K thing turned out to be a real problem.'

"I told him that I'd purchased some bottled water and a couple dozen cans of Spam under the same pretext, but that I wasn't about to fetch the Spam and make him eat it right there on the lawn."


Later, when Christian plays ping pong with his gunman friend, Christian asks that Kevin not shoot him for not wanting to play ping pong. Kevin replies, "Whatever," implying that the gun never the point to begin with.

What Douglas Lain has managed to capture here is rather rare: The struggle for much of our generation to come to grips with the unmooring of lives and the strange events that have shaped us as we entered adulthood: the surreal events during the election, in this narrative. Many of Lain's characters are ping-pongs to such events of their lives -- supposedly a writing no-no -- but here the theme matches perfectly the way reality often pitches us to and fro. "Nobody believes," the wife states, "that they believe that they believe they are free." Later: "We're trapped. More stuck than ever."

Another admirable trait of the book is its willingness to use nonfiction (real or imagined) as fodder for the story -- discussion of architecture and narrative itself. Moreover, it is puzzling that so many narratives have unaware, unintelligent protagonists -- doubly strange considering that so many readers are thinkers. Lain has remedied that problem here with characters who tackle reality head-on.

As admirable and ambitious the book is, the narrative closure could have been stronger, especially considering the nature of the inquisitive and intelligent protagonist who seems to cop out of intellectual engagement with the material in the end (not seeking to answer all questions, but to wrestle it down part way). The ending argues unconvincingly with what came before. The groundwork was laid for some provocative connections, but on occasion the text meandered.

Nonetheless, the novel is well worth the read for those who love to think about the stories they read. For those who like to be at the forefront of what's truly unique about the field, they will want to grab this book. If Wave of Mutilation falls into the laps of enough readers, this may help put Lain on more people's maps. (Lain has a new novel forthcoming from Tor in 2013.)

Copyright © 2011 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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