Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void

by Simon Logan


Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void takes place in an ugly industrial wasteland of a city full of broken metal, tag art and toxic sludge. The location could be almost any sprawling metropolis within the temperate zones, in the not-too-distant future. Simon Logan evokes an atmosphere of crushing despair, a city overdosed with ennui, a landscape so toxic it's painful to imagine.

The novel opens in a very visual way, using camera directions as though we are watching the action unfold on a screen. The repetition of words and phrases such as "pan to..." and "cut" soon starts to grate, and it's disconcerting because there's no immediate sense of an individual behind the camera, no sense of who is watching and why. This makes the start of Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void seem very impersonal. Although that may very well be the intended effect it does make the book harder to get into initially because it takes longer to understand the characters and to engage with them.

Elisabeth Afterlife makes documentaries, and is rarely without a camera. Haunted by a ghost and in a way afraid of becoming one herself, Elisabeth Afterlife is a poignant figure, hard yet full of grief. Her latest project involves tracking down train riders, those people who jump onto moving trains for the buzz of dicing with death. It's a self-destructive craze that more and more young people are hooked on, as though they are in the grip of a lemming-like mass hysteria.

Catalina is one of the train riders, and given her day job it's not hard to understand why. She works as a "roach", a badly-treated and poorly-paid industrial cleaner who spends her days elbow-deep in toxic slime. She has little to look forward to other than deadly thrill-seeking in a life that seems meaningless and empty.

Camille and Auguste stand out amongst the anarchists, deviants, punks and junkies who populate this novel, as two characters who don't routinely have to avoid the law. Artists and lovers, they have gained a measure of respect for their work. But Camille, who has to wear a disfiguring spinal brace, is desperately jealous of Auguste and resents the attention he gives to the numerous female models he employs.

Then there is Shiva, a ruthless woman who is somehow involved in some of the destructive acts that occur around the city with alarming frequency. As her name suggests, she's quite a firebrand.

This novel improves the further in you read, both as it picks up the pace and as the threads of five disparate lives draw closer together. The characters are distinctive and richly imagined, and though it takes a while to figure out what makes them tick, once we're allowed into their heads there's no forgetting them.

The ending cleverly pieces together the themes of the novel, taking them to a logical conclusion. There's no doubt that this is a bleak read: with touches of nihilism and characters who are bent on self-destruction you can hardly expect it to be jolly. The stark, striking landscape and the vast urban wasteland is oppressive, as much a psychological space as a physical one. It's the environment of people who have given up hope, and Logan paints it skilfully. Pretty Little Things To Fill Up The Void is exciting, quirky, and thought-provoking, as arresting as a beautiful corpse.

Book Details

Year: 2008

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

  Not For The Squeamish  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Simon Logan

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