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Voyager paperback £5.99
review by Duncan Lawie
Before you even open this book you ought to have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The cover has green men and sleek black UFOs alongside the strap-line "if you're not paranoid, you're not human." The text leaps immediately into several popular conspiracies and keeps on digging. There is a certain satire in the multiplicity of conflicting theories that the book throws together, reflecting the unscientific approach of a new dark age. Dozens of the paranoid ideas that have entered the popular imagination are combined in the development of the book's big idea: the secret cabal which controls human affairs has spent the last 50 years developing Unified Conspiracy Theory to disguise their inability to understand what is happening.
Unfortunately, the idea that everything is true means that there is no constraint on what may suddenly be thrown into the mix, severely damaging the build-up of tension in the plot. At first, the primary protagonist attempts to maintain a scientific approach to the raw balderdash which makes up the bulk of modern myth, but he soon falls victim to a more powerful force: the overriding imperative to be funny. This is something of a disappointment as Matthew Thomas is clearly capable of writing sharply amusing criticism in short spurts. The 'Dentist Explanation' for President Kennedy's assassination is wonderfully barmy yet as likely as many other theories that have reached print; the attacks on the 'Military-Industrial-Entertainment Complex' often sound as if they are from the heart; and some of the minor characters are well-founded caricatures of major figures in the modern world. However, much of the text feels like the writer is mugging at the camera. The humour is relentless but of very variable quality; no attempt at a joke has been thrown out, in the hope that someone will find it funny. Often, the text is confounded by constructions such as "a bemused and terrified shriek." Perhaps such unlikely conjunctions are meant to add amusement but they sound more as if insufficient care was taken in the writing.
None of the central characters is sufficiently likeable or individual, being barely differentiated stereotypical stock; they feel the first stirrings of insanity, but these neither develop nor fade before the next occurrence. This lack of growth makes it difficult to care how the story ends and, when it does, neither they nor the world seem particularly transformed. Terror Firma is the lightest of light reading - it barely entertains and does little to inform.
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