Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘Freezone’ by John Shirley

with 10 comments

After gargoyles and mermaids, this sounds much more like it. Freezone! It conjures up unfettered capitalism with a seamy underbelly. So it is a bit of a surprise to discover that the protagonist, Rick Rickenharp, is your dad.

First though, we have several pages of dire infodumping. Here is a particularly bad example:

The company that bought Disneyland and Disneyworld and Disneyworld II – all three of which had closed in the wake of the CSD: the Computer Storage Depression. Also called the Dissolve Depression.

Once this is painful scene-setting is dispensed with we are introduced to Rickenharp. He wears a fifty year old leather jacket alledgedly owned by John Cale (yeah, right), blue jeans, Harley Davidson boots and shades. “And he did all this because it was gratingly unfashionable.” It is certainly grating. Rickenharp is in a rock band, a rock band called Rickenharp, a rock band that plays proper rock. None of this modern flare or minimomo rubbish.

One of the first bits of advice aspiring writers are given is not to write about writing. Shirley has been in several bands, variously described on the internet as punk, post-punk and (alarmingly) post-punk-funk, and I kinda wish someone had given him similar advice about not writing about music. Shirley’s love of his subject matter and his lack of skill combine to form a frankly sickening narrative voice:

    Without consciously knowing it, Rickenharp was moving to the music. Not too much. Not in the pushy, look-at-me way that some performers had. The way they had of trying to force enthusiasm from the audience, every move looking artificial.
    No, Rickenharp was a natural. The music flowed through him physically, unimpeded by anxieties or ego knots. His ego was there; it was the fuel for his personal Olympian torch. But it was as immaculate as a pontiff’s robes.

I was cringing as I typed that. There are still 24 pages to go but I am going to pause here because I can’t take any more for the moment.

Okay, I’m back. Unfortunately that breather didn’t work very well because I still had to return to the story and find, on the very next page, this:

    And like a horniness it had built up in them, like sexual energy, dammed behind their private resentments; and now it was pouring through the dam, and the band shook with the release of it as Rickenharp thundered into his progression and began to sing…
    The audience stared at him with insistent hostility, but Rickenharp liked it when the girl played pretend-to-rape-me. Force it into their ears, man.

It is hard to top a line as profoundly awful as “and like a horniness” but making the metaphor all rapey certainly does the trick. Congratulations, Shirley. There then follows a pointless, jammed in interview fragment and a meeting with Dick van Dyke: “Oi sawr you at Stone’enge five years ago when you ‘ad your second ‘it.” Stonehenge again! Now it is drawing with Battersea.

Rickenharp then takes some drugs and wanders Freezone in search of a plot. He doesn’t find one but we do get a nice trip through an appropriately cyberpunk city. After the tour of the tech and the flesh it seems that the story is going to gently fade into nothingness. Unfortunately Shirley has one final treat for us:

“And when I get you alone I’m going to batter your cervix into jelly.”
“You think that kind of talk turns me on? Well, it does.”

Oh dear.

Punkosity: ***
Quality: *

Embarrassingly I’ve gone through life thinking John Shirley and John Varley are one and the same. I feel like I need to apologise to Varley.

Written by Martin

16 April 2011 at 11:14

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. You’ve managed to call him Varley halfway through as well :->

    Andrew Ducker

    16 April 2011 at 12:58

  2. Oh bloody hell. Sorry, Varley. Again.


    16 April 2011 at 13:04

  3. Oh, don’t worry. John Varley has enough weird sex to go around. The lesbian-sex-with-invisible-woman bit from “Wizard” is particularly edifying, not to mention all the various musically-named permutations of sexin’ practiced by the centaur-type people in the “Titan” series.

    John Shirley has done some decent writing-about-music, but, yeah. This isn’t it.

    Josh Brandt

    16 April 2011 at 16:38

  4. is stroy = story? (just checking)

    Just as a question, isn’t bashing the reader with infodumping part of punkosity. Possibly the lower the overall quality helps, like putting extra spikes on the chain he is beating us with.


    17 April 2011 at 02:33

  5. Infodumping strikes me as inherently un-punk: like doing a lengthy soundcheck in public.


    17 April 2011 at 09:17

  6. Don’t give up on John Shirley! I haven’t read this story but his collection Black Butterflies has some great ones: ‘Cram’ is one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever read; ‘Delia and the Dinner Party’ is equally brilliant and fucked up. Also, his novel Wetbones is an excellent gonzo horror trip.


    20 April 2011 at 19:26

  7. […] may be persuaded to look again at the work of John Shirley but let’s be honest, when you want cyberpunk, you want Bruce […]

  8. […] by James Patrick Kelly ‘Petra’ by Greg Bear ‘Till Human Voices Wake Me’ by Lewis Shiner ‘Freezone’ by John Shirley ‘Stone Lives’ by Paul di Filippo ‘Red Star, Winter Orbit’ by Bruce Sterling and William […]

  9. Not sure how I missed this here, but this isn’t actually a discrete story. It’s just part of a chapter from a longer novel. (I enjoyed all three of the Eclipse books, although the Rickenharp introduction, which is what this is excerpted from, is definitely among the weakest sections of the trilogy.) The Eclipse books are increasingly relevant to today’s political climate.


    6 June 2017 at 18:59

  10. Just read the story today and had to see if there were any incredulous responses to be found online. Thank you for a laugh-out-loud amusing review, you nailed it. I honestly had to stop and stare into space for a few seconds when I first read that ‘batter your cervix into jelly’ line. 🤦


    19 January 2022 at 04:53

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