Grey, by Jon Armstrong

A recent book caught my eyes in the bookstore the other day: Jon Armstrong's second novel, Yarn, with a gorgeous cover and an interesting looking storyline. In the midst of deciding which book to get, two others won out, and it was returned to the shelf. Followup research showed that I should have gone for it, and further searches in nearby stores came up empty.

Over the course of reading up on Yarn, I discovered that the author's first book, Grey, was set in the same universe, setting up Armstrong's particular brand of fiction, labeled 'Fiction-Punk'. Better still, the publisher, Nightshade Books, had an advance reader's copy of the book up on their website, for a free download. (You can get it here.)

Grey is a quick, funny read, with a couple of caveats and assumptions to go along with that. Set in a near future dystopia, Michael Rivers is the son of a family member, part of the elite, in a world where pop culture and consumerism has run amok, in the most ridiculous fashion possible. While reading the book, I'm operating on the assumption that this book shifted more towards the satirical than rational. Rivers is a celebrity, and where reality television runs every day, with talk show hosts and talking heads talking nonstop to his own egotistical father who has a documentary filmed of his life as he's living it, reediting it as he goes.

Fashion takes a front seat in this book, and Armstrong's descriptions of the fashion of this world is a fun one. Despite the book's title, there's multiple colors everywhere, with people wearing some of the strangest things throughout, at least in the expensive and livable areas. It's not an area where one will think about science fiction, but it's clear that there's a lot of inspiration taken from the costuming of numerous films here, and if anything, this film breaks the reader out of the mold that this book is merely a continuation of suburban America.

Despite the label 'fashionpunk', this book isn't really about fashion: it's a fairly acute look at the direction of a consumerist culture. Once the absurdity is stripped away from the book (mainly in the language of most of the characters), it's a downright scary look at how things could be several decades from now. Some things remain very much the same: an obsession with celebrity and instant gratification, where companies live and die by their ratings and public perception, rather than their actual internal workings.

This is an entertaining book - one that was a bit of fun to read, although I do hope that Yarn (which I now have) turns out to be a bit better. The plot for this story was rather loose at times, and there are some elements (Michael's origins - cobbled together from parts from his numerous sibblings comes to mind) where I thought there should have been more emphasis, and there's a bit of wandering here and there as the book progresses.

But, Grey is an entertaining, with some very dark undercurrents to it, and some very fun parts (Who wouldn't enjoy professional ironing championships in a fashion-oriented world?) as well. I'm even more excited about Yarn after finishing it.