Science fiction and fantasy
Automatic Safe Dog
by Jet McDonald
Telby is quite strange. Everything from the way he focuses on people's teeth to his brief attacks of evangelism and the stalkerish way he pursues Ravenski mark him out as an oddball. Yet in the boardroom he fits right in. He's a pretender, winging it with no real ideas to market and no clue how to proceed. His secretary, Abel, is also completely hopeless at his job. Abel is more interested in writing a great novel one syllable at a time than in passing on messages to Telby. Then there's Ibore Davidson, a woman with her eye on Telby and the strangest of tastes in hairstyles, dining, and home life. Ibore is a slave to fashion, a brilliant parody of the kind of foolish herd instinct that afflicts those with more money than sense. Automatic Safe Dog is absurd and often very funny, a descending spiral of madness.
The tone darkens part-way through when executives start getting picked off one by one. Everyone thinks this is the work of the daftly-named Animal Liberation Liberationists. Yet as the company goes into high security lockdown and a dummy board of executives is set up to meet as a decoy, Telby grows suspicious. Who is really running the company? And who is making the cryptic banging on the pipes throughout the Priscilla wharf skyscraper?
The pace stalls a little in the middle of the book. This is partly because there are so many bizarre things going on that the story seems too disconnected from reality. There are incompetent doctors, martial artists with mops, and much more that is unusual. Telby himself seems keen to spend more time asleep than he does working. The plot is busy with absurdities, but it's not as tense as it could be when the main character is dropping off to nap frequently, or engaging in office affairs.
There's a lot of sex. "Do all business relationships work at this level?" Telby asks the personnel officer Frances in chapter five. "Oh no, they go much deeper," is her suggestive reply.
However the haze of insanity clears up in the latter part of the book enough to make the author's intentions clear. When Telby is asked to make a personal sacrifice for the company we're left wondering whether he will find the will to stand up to its unreasonable demands. The novel moves towards an exciting showdown as a hodgepodge collection of misfits and maniacs prepare to make a desperate push for liberation.
Automatic Safe Dog is a crazy story, but it's madness with a barbed point. It reminds me a little of the film Brazil, although really it's too unique to compare successfully to other works. Telby Velour is a great character, funny and incompetent and a real chancer, and he captured my imagination from the story's shocking start to its stunning ending. This is a good read, which I like best for the way it takes aim at corporate leadership, marketing madness, and the easy acceptance of the dictates of people who wear suits, no matter how insane they may be.
22nd June 2011
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