'The Condimental Op:' Advance Book Review

 

The Condimental OpWhen you read The Condimental Op by Andrez Bergen, have a Google tab open nearby. Over the course of the anthology, you’ll undoubtedly want to look a few things up. This is not to imply that the book is somehow vague or hard to understand, or that you’ll need to research a lot of obscure references in order to follow along. There ARE a lot of references in this book—famous film scenes he makes reference to, book characters he says inspired him, music he discusses, and an eclectic array of other things—but many of them are familiar, and the ones that aren’t, he explains adeptly.


However, he explains these references SO well—whether it’s the oeuvre of Akira Kurosawa, his in-depth look at the history of electronic music, or the numerous literary allusions to hardboiled noir—that the titles you aren’t familiar with, you’ll be eager to check out for yourself. Including Bergen’s own other books, which he discusses freely throughout.

Bergen is an author, journalist, and DJ, born in Australia and currently living in Tokyo, Japan. The Condimental Op is a collection of short pieces, spanning his rather fascinating career. Most of it is short fiction, in a variety of genres. There are also a few articles, reviews, and other journalistic pieces, as well as a couple of short comics, and even a brief section of poetry. Each piece is preceded by Bergen’s commentary on it, providing a bit of history and background. These insights into the author’s work are often nearly as interesting as the work itself. Though some of them may have been better placed after the stories they describe, rather than before, as once or twice, the thoughts and anecdotes on the stories he’s describing give away the ending of the story itself.

Some of the pieces are better than others—a fact which Mr. Bergen freely admits. There are pieces that were rejected from publication elsewhere, as well as stories he just wasn’t satisfied with, or couldn’t quite make work. These stories are flawed, but still entertaining. Others are mildly interesting, but ultimately forgettable. Most of them are good, though, and generally a lot of fun.

The best section is his series of stories about a pair of characters named Roy and Suzie: a bickering, odd couple detective duo that investigates supernatural phenomena. Their antics are hilarious, as they argue about trivialities while various monsters try to kill them. It would be nice to see a full novel about Roy and Suzie, or at least an anthology of their own.

Roy and Suzie’s antics are followed by another interesting section, a series of scenes and short stories set in the world of Bergen’s first novel: a dystopian sci-fi noir thriller called Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat.  The section is mostly hardboiled noir vignettes, featuring a series of tough characters in a series of intense situations. If you haven’t read the book (which I haven’t), this section may take some time to get into. Who these characters are and what kind of world they’re living in isn’t very clear at first. But, as you read more (of both the stories and the commentary), it becomes easier to follow, until finally, by the end of the section, you’ll want to read the novel.

That’s a theme that’s prevalent throughout the anthology. Bergen makes frequent references to his other novels, from Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat to his surreal, slipstream fantasy, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, to his upcoming superhero novel, Who Is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? When he jumps headlong into discussing the content of one of his novels, it can be difficult to keep up if you haven’t read it. But, as the book goes on, the confusion gradually dissipates. He talks about the plots of his books, introduces us to the characters, and even includes a couple of teasers. By the end, you’ll know each one intimately.

It almost makes you wonder if it’s a clever marketing ploy on Bergen’s part. Using this book to get the reader hooked and wanting to read the rest of his books as well. If this is the case, then the ploy totally works. Before I’d even finished reading The Condimental Op, I’d downloaded Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and volunteered to read and review Capes of Heropa. Marketing ploy or not, I’m eager to experience more of Bergen’s work.

Or maybe the whole “marketing ploy” thing is just me being cynical. It’s more likely that he keeps referencing his novels, because they’re such an important part of his life—the benchmarks by which he measures many of the other, concurrent events going on in his life. Like anything else in the anthology, he talks about his novels, because he’s passionate about them.

Bergen certainly wears his passions on his sleeve. He loves noir and hardboiled detective stories, specifically the works of Raymond Chandler. And, he not only knows the genre well enough to make references, he’s also talented at writing in it, delivering a number of compelling stories in the noir style. In addition to noir, he also gives us a basic tour of DJs and music, comics and superhero lore, Japanese films and culture, and a smattering of B-movie science fiction. And, he manages to get us excited about each topic. The Condimental Op affords us an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of Andrez Bergen. And, what a fascinating and diverse world that is.

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 21 June 2013 01:34

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