Monday 13 January 2014

Book Review | Channel Blue by Jay Martel

Earth used to be Galaxy Entertainment's most lucrative show. The inhabitants of the Western Galaxy — the savviest, richest demographic in the Milky Way — just couldn't get enough of the day-to-day details of the average Earthling's life.

But Channel Blue's ratings are flagging and its producers are planning a spectacular finale. In just three weeks, their TV show will go out with a bang. The trouble is, so will Earth.

Only one man can save our planet from total destruction. And he's hardly a hero...


Guys, meet Galaxy Entertainment super-producer Gerald O. Davidoff — God for short — whose work on planet Earth everyone is of course intimately familiar with. God, say hi to the guys.

*pause for cacophonous applause*

What an immense pleasure it is to have you here, back where it all began! But I understand that you're a very busy man — and your visits, I'm aware, are getting rarer by the day — so I'll keep this quick, the better to let you get right back to business. I just have to ask: what's the plan, man? I'm no great creator, of course, but all this anger and violence and hunger and hatred is getting to be a bit much. The long and short of what we all want to know, I suppose, is... what gives, God?
As you all know, I have a strong attachment to this particular world. It was my very first planet and without it I would never have become part of the Galaxy Entertainment family. But no-one can deny that its programming has fallen off quite a bit in the last few seasons, and while I, more than anyone, appreciate the quality shows that have been produced there in the past, I also need to recognise that the storylines have become too bizarre, the cast to unlikeable to sustain the ratings we have come to expect. I think we can all agree that this planet 'jumped the shark' a long time ago. Plus, the resources spent on this single world could be used to develop several planetainments in less expensive solar systems. 
As a result of these considerations, I regrettably feel that the time has come to cancel Earth. (p.2)
Wait, you what?

So it is that Channel Blue — the delightful, Douglas Adams-esque debut of Jay Martel, Emmy Award nominated for his work with the provocateur Michael Moore — begins with the threat of an ending. Because Earth, as it happens, is a product, and demand for it is quite frankly flagging.
When it first went on the air, people couldn't get enough of Earth. They loved how naive and stupid and selfish you all were, killing each other, eating your fellow mammals, starting wars over rocks you found in the ground. And every year it seemed like you became more even more entertaining, with crazier and more effective ways of killing each other and yourselves: bombs that could obliterate the world, super-viruses in biological labs, and, of course, the internal combustion engine, which in itself is quite a triumph of self-destruction on so many levels. Careening around your highways in your metal boxes, poisoning the air, smashing into each other — our audiences had never seen anything like it. But then, they loved all the inexplicable behaviours, the ludicrous religious clashes, the constant fornication, the devastating wars over nothing — it all seemed fun and novel. For a while. Then, at some point, people grew tired of watching it. It was bound to happen. I mean, you live here, you know what it's like. (pp.63-64)
Rather than spending good money after bad trying to improve the planet, Galaxy Entertainment plan, per the parlance, to "finale it." (p.3) And all that stands between us extras and certain death is a balding Hollywood has-been...

Having burned one too many bridges in the film industry, Perry Bunt has taken to teaching screenwriting at a community college to make his meagre ends meet. There, the only thing that gets him through the day is a gorgeous girl: one Amanda Mundo.
Some day, before the term was over, Perry would ask Amanda if she would like to have a cup of coffee and talk more about her screenplay. She would gladly agree, and that coffee would become a date, which she wouldn't even realise was a date until they found themselves in each other's arms. This date would become several dates, a relationship and, eventually, the love that would save Perry from lonely misery.
This, Perry knew, was the Romance Story, one of seven story templates from which all Hollywood movies were constructed. But that didn't stop him from believing it. (p.11)
To wit, one day Perry visits Amanda at her work, planning to offer her the promised coffee. At Channel Blue HQ, however, he's stunned to discover that the thrust of his lust truly is an otherworldly beauty. Like God, she too is a producer for Galaxy Entertainment, and she's been attending Perry's lectures looking for inspiration for a show so awesome that it could potentially preempt the apocalypse.

Unusually for an alien, Amanda isn't without sympathy — in fact she's grown rather fond of the world she works on — so when the mind-wipe the security guards put Perry through fails to take, she explains the situation to him. What follows is some of the finest farce I've read since Channel Blue began broadcasting, as our unlikely hero and his extra-terrestrial love interest attempt to save the day.

Jay Martel's debut is at its absolute funniest in its first act, when he and we are finding our feet. The satire is sharp and the social commentary cutting; in the interim the author's wit is winning, whilst his characters are, if not natural, then perfectly fit for purpose. Sadly, once the setup's done the story sort of takes over, and it is — in its inanity — pretty predictable. The less said about those moments when Channel Blue threatens to veer into seriousness the better.

On the whole, however, Channel Blue is so whimsical that I had little difficulty buying into its ridiculousness. As Amanda marvels in advance of what is a massively satisfying finale which recalls the book's best bits:
"We're talking about a series of events, each less probable than the one before it: leaving my coat in your class; your walking through the security door at Galaxy Entertainment; the steel plates in your head shielding your brain from the collar; your attempts to save the world and getting beaten up, which made you a star on Channel Blue, which threw us together in a van under the freeway where we lost our minds for several seconds." (pp.266-267)
Albeit several very memorable seconds, which Perry is at pains to point out.

If you can imagine The Truman Show as written by Douglas Adams — for once the blurbs are bang on — you have a good clue about what you're getting into with Channel Blue. I hasten to add that it won't be for everyone; best you steer well clear if you're a God-fearing American and easily offended. Otherwise, Jay Martel's endearing debut debunks a long tradition of speculative fiction that would have you believe that the apocalypse is going to be awful.

Who knew that the end of the world could be so bloody funny?


Channel Blue
by Jay Martel

UK Publication: January 2014, Head of Zeus

Buy this book from / The Book Depository

Or get the Kindle edition

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1 comment:

  1. Oh this looks awesome. Now I must find out if it has a US publisher and release date because I need my funny bone tickled.