"Aetherchrist" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Apex Book Company
Written by Kirk Jones
2018, 144 pages, Fiction
Released on May 11th, 2018
For a book reviewer, there is truly nothing more satisfying than being unexpectedly blown away by the next item up for review, and Aetherchrist, the latest novella from Kirk Jones, certainly did that and then some. In some ways, I’m still trying to get my head around what this strange little tale is all about. It’s exceptionally odd, beguiling, highly original and probably more science fiction than horror. However, do not let that put you off, this is dark fiction at its finest and a worthwhile addition to the world of weird modern fiction.
If the cult TV show The Twilight Zone is ever resurrected, then the producers need look no further than this novella for their source material for the premier episode! Also, I reckon you could give Aetherchrist to a bunch of brainy college students studying English Literature by sneakily add this to their prescribed reading list, and then get them to write a 2,000-word paper on what it is about. Man, I 100% guarantee those dudes would struggle summing it up. I love books which have a totally unique vision and the result is a very cleverly constructed story. Ultimately it does not matter whether Aetherchrist is horror, science fiction or fantasy, it’s probably all three. The bottom line is a simple one: you’ll be scratching your head along with those English grad-students, but you’ll love it.
I am going to be deliberately vague on plot details, so read it and submerge yourself in the analogue jigsaw. It opens with Reymond, a down at heel, door-to-door cutlery salesman turning up at the latest in a long line of backwater town to sell his junk. After a couple of days, he notices everybody has their televisions on, but they seem to be watching nothing but static. It’s also old analogue televisions; it seems nobody has cable. Bizarrely, Reymond then notices himself on one of the televisions in a house he visits. How is this possible? It looks like a recording of him doing day-to-day stuff from the previous morning. He can’t understand why anybody would bother spy on him; weirdly, all the different available channels then seem to have him involved in other activities, but all from different time periods from when he arrived in town. If he flicks from channel one to channel two, he sees a slightly different version of himself. Even more troubling, the final channel shows him lying dead on the street. Can he change this future, if that is what it is? He hopes so, but whenever he flicks back to this particular channel, it never alters, he is always dead. Having no idea what is going on, a murderous incident with a work colleague forces him to investigate.
I loved this quirky little gem, which features the spirit of both novelists William Burroughs and William Gibson, but also the cult classic films Repo Man by Alex Cox, John Carpenter’s They Live, some David Cronenberg, a smattering of David Lynch, and the considerably more obscure Static, directed by Mark Romanek. The latter is an oddity about a guy who claims to see heaven in the static of a busted television set. Aetherchrist is not quite about that, but it does feature a lot of television static and in its own way a version of heaven. Like Burroughs and Gibson, this novella is brimming with crazy ideas and although it has a contemporary setting, utilises modern science, and has a weirdly retro feel which adds considerably to the atmosphere. It might slyly nod unconsciously to these classics, but is most certainly its own beast and copies nobody.
Right from the start we peg Reymond as a loser. Sales are non-existent, he has a crush on his boss who doesn’t realise he exists, and even a blind date turns out to be with a man. The guy has no luck, but as he tries to figure out why he keeps appearing on these old analogue TVs, it turns into a fascinating journey of discovery into hidden powers shrouded behind analogue TV signals which may have the power to subliminally influence people, perhaps the whole population. It’s as captivating as it is hypnotic and I suppose poses the question: If you had the power to make everyone watch you on TV, would you?
The author gives off a large whiff of nostalgia for a TV system which no longer exists, he yearns for the static of changing channels, trying to catch a programme which may have a stronger signal at certain points of the day, or moving your external antennae to improve the picture. In the digital world these days are long gone, and author Kirk Jones finds a clever use for all the massive defunct analogue aerials which are now effectively technological graveyards. I wonder whether these huge analogue radio antennae still exist. He certainly had me searching on Wikipedia for an answer.
It meanders slightly in the second half, but this is still a very surreal and captivating read. Throw in some body horror, defunct technology, rioting, subliminal messages, conspiracy theories and other weird and wonderful stuff and the end result is a real mind bender of a novel which has much to love and cause confusion. Highly recommended.