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by Kurt Wenzel

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


In this sometimes bizarre look into the future, author Kurt Wenzel seems to be telling us that he has something against society's commercialization, the Hollywood system, media advertising overload ("advertising is the new fascism"), and other gripes. His story is enough years ahead, in Los Angeles, for a new ad device to have been developed, a more engaging and more ubiquitous version of billboards as we currently know them. These are 60, 80, 100 feet square "Moving Image Billboards" or "MIBs" that engage the senses with the luster and detail of digital high definition plasma screens throbbing day and night with light, color and motion. And, then, there's the sound to insist on your attention!

In the modest room in the Ming Blue hotel that he calls a "tomb," Marshall Reed finds escape and relief from the cacophony of media blitz, a place where he can work, doctoring screenplays for his employer and closest friend, the most famous actor on the planet, Colt Reston (think young John Wayne and quadruple it).

The pair go back to their early years as baseball heroes. Then, after separate retirements, they both found their futures in an unplanned Hollywood symbiosis. Reed wrote his only complete full-length script and masterpiece, murder mystery Chula Vista; Colt starred in it; and it resulted in the kind of success you find only in fairy tales and in Hollywood. Now, Marshall works exclusively for Colt, enjoying all the fruits of a productive partnership that is as much personal as private. Marshall is also a primary supplier for the current drug of choice, bliss.
But it's a strange time -- when a guarded figure known as Mr. Black has written a book to stir the masses. The Black Book is a manifesto for everyone who can embrace notions like advertising plutocracy, image fascism, the end of ambiguities (itself an ambiguity), and other, even more extreme concepts that includes destruction of the MIBs and anyone who stands in the way of such reform.

The beautiful Lindsay Williams, a reporter determined to promote her career, is embarked on her own mission in regard to the mysterious Mr. Black. Throwing caution to the winds, she accepts his invitation to meet for an interview -- one which carries with it the demand that she covers her face in order not to see him -- under pain of death. Which is not an idle threat. She finds herself at dawn, in a parking area near the ocean, with a black pillowcase over her head and her nipples chafing against her khaki field jacket. Any risk to promote her career.

When the bodies start falling -- two of them the result of a dreaded wasting disease from an unknown source -- it makes Marshall frantic and gooses his investigation to track down the secretive author whose work is building a corp of extremist followers of the doctrine. Only by finding the dangerous man who wrote it will he understand its deepest secrets and uncover the mystery of who murdered his best friend. Maybe, too, he can break the advertisers' hold on a society in rebellion.
"To my mind, this will all end in terror. The future conflicts won't be East versus West, Jew versus Arab, or even jihad versus the infidel. It will be the people versus corporate media and advertising. Eventually, when the moon glows "Michelin" and the word "Trident" is etched onto our teeth in exchange for dental insurance and the Senate is the one hundred CEOs of the nation's top corporations, there will be a breakdown..."

Within this strange, distopian vision is Wenzel's warning: are we alert to what might come from following current directions without balanced safeguards? His narrative style makes it rocky reading, what with the pace interrupted by new characters all along the way, impeding the flow with descriptive passages that demand reorientation. Almost despite that, however, with strangely behaving characters in a Ted Kaczynski universe, Wenzel does build images of troubling times to come, the dark side of ambition and fame, and an unexpected subject that's as eccentric as it is perverse. It could amount to the most novel, off-level read you're going to enjoy this year.
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