Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Prince of Christler-Coke
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Golden Gryphon, 244 pages

Prince of Christler-Coke
Neal Barrett, Jr.
Neal Barrett, Jr., of Austin, Texas, has written novels and stories in the fields of mystery/suspense, science fiction, Westerns, historical novels, YA novels and what some term "off-the-wall" mainstream fiction. His novelette "Ginny Sweethips' Flying Circus" was a finalist for both the SFWA's Nebula Award and the Hugo Award, and his short story, "Stairs", received a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. In 1997, he served as Toastmaster of the 55th World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Prince of Christler-Coke
SF Site Review: Perpetuity Blues and Other Stories

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

Pity poor Asel Iacola, who only gets to be Prince of Christler-Coke for an hour and a half before Ducky Du Pontiac Heinz kills his family, steals his new bride, and sends Asel off to the National Executive Rehabilitation Facility (NERF). No-one of such fine breeding as Asel should suffer the deprivations of tacky clothes and honest work. By the end of Neal Barrett, Jr.'s new novel, though, Asel will have experienced far worse.

The bloodline for the House of Christler-Coke is an impressive one, indeed, as intoned at Asel's wedding:

And Anheuser-Tusch
begat Canon-Cadillac,
begat Kodak-Smack,
begat Pfizer-Kaiser-Nizer,
begat Motorolacola,
begat AT&Me,
begat Hershey-GE...
From Asel great things are expected -- mergers and acquisitions, bribes and scams -- because the evil Jackie Cee, Lord of Disney-Dow and ruler of the Califoggy State, threatens to take over the world, rendering Asel's own territory, America East, irrelevant to the SEC. Few greater horrors are imaginable.

But thanks to Ducky, Asel does not get to fulfill his fate, and instead careens from one unfortunate circumstance to another, getting double-crossed at every turn, making friends, stumbling onto enemies, and moving ever-westward, despite all his best intentions, until he ends up, as we always knew he would, face-to-face with Jackie Cee in the tree-palaces of Sekwoyah Heights.

It's amusing stuff, this, though not quite amusing enough to sustain 244 pages, no matter how breezy. Fifty pages in, we understand exactly what Barrett is up to -- we've had plenty of time with the devolved English that mangles every noun into a near-miss of its contemporary incarnation, we've realized that the world of the novel is one of corporate feudalism, and we've admired the fertility of Barrett's imagination. Yee haw, good fun. But a third of the way through, a question nags: What's the point?

The structure is picaresque: something happens and then something else and then something else. There's an element of quest, though the nature of the quest is as unclear as in anything Kafka wrote. The tone is satirical (think Candide), but gently so. The characters are cartoons. The ending could be that of Samuel Johnson's eighteenth-century novel Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, which sports the description, "The Conclusion, in Which Nothing is Concluded."

The problem with The Prince of Christler-Coke is that its first third is tremendously entertaining, funny, and fascinatingly odd -- but the novel doesn't get any more entertaining, funny, or odd than that. It is no sin for a story of this sort not to have characters and a plot that develop over the course of the narrative, but it is a problem if the events and settings of the book don't display richer and richer imagination, if the satire doesn't deepen, if the reader is left with the sense that nothing will be gained by continuing to read.

Neal Barrett, Jr. has not gotten the credit he deserves for being as fine a writer as he is (see his other book from Golden Gryphon Press, the short story collection Perpetuity Blues), but Prince of Christler-Coke is unfortunately mediocre, particularly for as fine a writer as Barrett, who could have written a brilliant short story from this material. Alas, he decided to write a novel.

Copyright © 2004 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal,, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide