"Codename Prague" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
Look. Spit it out. I'm out of one-liners and it's time for breakfast. Eggs and bacon. No toast. – Vincent Prague
Written by D. Harlan Wilson
2010, 195 pages, Bizarro Fiction
Book released on January 17th, 2011
There is no doubt I've mentioned in a prior review or three that the worst part of this gig is when you really like something, but you have no idea in hell how to convey that passion to the reader...especially when you are stuck in how to describe what the heck you just experienced (be it a book, film, music, whatever).That's the struggle I'm having with D. Harlan Wilson's Codename Prague.
To put it in perspective, for those that have seen Doomsday (and liked it, as I did), how do you describe it to your friends? Is it Mad Max? Is it 28 Days Later? Is it Excalibur? In reality, it's all of those and more. But to describe it other than something along the lines of "a 35-year-old got a shit ton of money and made the movie he has wanted to see since he was 13" is a pretty tall order.
Codename Prague is a mashup of science, insanity, mad scientists, short-tempered special agents, epic Scorsese character battles, a Frankenstein monster that is part Adolf Hitler, part John Keats, and a fistful of ultra-violent chop suey. While the book is the second in the Scikungfi Trilogy, it doesn't seem to share much with its predecessor, Dr. Identity, or, Farewell to Plaquedemia, other than it has the same whacked out universe where anything seems possible and usually involves pain.
The book starts with Vincent Prague, our protagonist, being awakened by two MAP (Ministry of Applied Pressure) agents with orders to bring him in, hard or easy. His choice. Naturally, things have to be done the difficult way and after a throwdown consisting of punches, shots, sliced off (and replaced) ears and more, Prague eventually communicates with the man who sent the heavies: Commodore Ronald Rabelais. Not just Prague's boss, Rabelais is the General Assistant Managerial Choreographer of Mortal Affairs for the Ministry of Applied Pressure's Department of Anthroplogism. Tell me that's not the Best Title Ever.
After some video phone chit-chat, Prague heads to Rabelais' office (with some fights on the way, of course) to get his new assignment.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated side story (that eventually becomes related, but not too deeply), Dr. Teufelsdröckh is working to create the perfect monster. The aforementioned cross between Hitler and Keats, with the looks of Jan Claude Van Damme. I am not shitting you.
And somewhere in the middle, Prague has an epic battle with the The Scorsese Boys gang (consisting of androids that "included the meanest, craziest and most vicious of director Martin Scorsese's anti-heroes: Casino's Nicky Santoro, Gangs of New York's Bill the Butcher, Cape Fear's Max Cady, GoodFellas' Tommy DeVito, The Departed's Francis Costello, and Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle." Even as skilled as Prague is, The Scorsese Boys get the best of him and he ends up being incarcerated for 18 years. But this is author D. Harlan Wilson's world, so 18 years can be 18 minutes and it all makes a crazy sort of sense.
Wilson's writing fascinates me. Codename Prague is cohesive insanity. As you read it, your brain is screaming that none of it should make sense, while at the same time everything is crystal clear. The chapters bounce between Prague's unclear mission and Dr. Teufelsdröckh's adventures with his creation, with seemingly no connection. Eventually, the two do cross paths and, when they do, it's almost more of a random coincidence than a plot device. Yet it's perfectly fitting within the story's confines. This frenetic style makes you think that it's written by someone suffering from severe ADD on a three day coke binge, but it constantly maintains an intangible structure that just shouldn't work, but does, and marvelously so.
Codename Prague is the type of book that people will either like or loath. If Wilson were a filmmaker, he'd be in the camp of David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky. You will either enjoy it or you won't. But if you like a bit of coherent madness in a world filled with senseless violence, Codename Prague will be right up your alley.