Monday, September 1, 2014

War Of The Gurus (The Savage Report #2)

War Of The Gurus, by Howard Rheingold
No month stated, 1974  Freeway Press

The second and final installment of The Savage Report is just as breathless and hyperbolic as the first, but this time Howard Rheingold unfortunately tells more than he shows, with the cumulative effect of rendering the reader insensate from the constant barrage of “futurespeak” words, phrases, and worldbuilding.

Picking up four months after the first volume, War Of The Gurus feels like it takes place years later – Rheingold as usual is very prescient in how quickly events will move in the future. Once again, his 1994 comes off like a hyper-accelerated 1974, and one thing the series has going for it is that it shows what future might have ensued if the hippies of the ‘70s had remained tuned in and had not become soulless capitalist yuppies in the ‘80s.

Anyway, Jack Anderson, main protagonist of the previous book, has been living in seclusion on an island bought for him by his boss, media sensation Eve Savage. Anderson quit after the events of the preceding volume, and you know you’re in trouble when within the first few pages the hero is going on about how much he hates being a spy and getting in danger and etc. But soon enough a completely-nude (well, other than a pair of boots) Smoky Kennedy parachutes onto Jack’s island and, after a full night of undescribed adult shenanigans, tells him she needs his help.

Smoky barely had much narrative space in the previous volume, but in this one she’s the star of the show, with Jack relegated to a supporting role and Eve Savage hardly in the novel at all. This makes me suspect that Eve would’ve starred in the third volume, had there been one. Smoky comes off like a female version of Jack, really, a well-seasoned spy who kicks all kinds of ass. This installment plays up more on her smarts, particularly with her gift for computer programming.

The plot, such as it is, is very convoluted this time out. First we have TRIGGER, which is like a ‘70s concept of the internet, a global computer interface that will allow people to vote for political candidates and also send in their opinions on whatever matters. This system is about to be incorporated, to much debate, especially given the recent allegations that TRIGGER might work both ways – ie, users might be unwittingly brainwashed by whatever the person on the other end is sending them.

Then there’s the Seven Elders who worship the Ha-Marani, “boy god” figurehead of a global cult of inward voyagers; they’ve been clashing with the New World Organ, a consortium of computer geeks who claim they are not a religion but that computers can be used to gain salvation, or something. Eve Savage, in her worldwide-watched Savage Report, lights the fuse between these two competing cults, with an actual religious war threatening to break out.

Smoky has apparently gotten herself in deep somehow, and has also quit working for Eve so as to go fully undercover, or something. Honestly my friends, this book is written in such a dizzying rush of “let me describe this and that in hyper-English” that the reader quickly becomes lost. This was the last volume, but the back cover still hypes The Savage Report as a “monthly” series; I’m betting it ended because Rheingold couldn’t keep it up. Seriously, there’s no way an author could write like this on a monthly basis:

Seventeen brands of demonic fury besieged Savage Communications while Eve sat and stared at the impending scenario of carnage; incoming calls lit-up her comboard while she merged with the billionfold audience watching Marshall Law grab the spotlight and lift his bloody truncheon to the skull of the world. The naked face of political sadism had a sweet paralyzing thanatophilic attraction mingled with bestial hatred and stinking fear. It was hard to tear her attention from that image, but Eve Savage was distracted by one small flashing blue light on that christmas-tree comboard. The signal drew her from Marshall Law and the Anaheim horror show; right now, the only person in the wide wobbling world that Eve wanted to talk with was an enigmatic and ominously silent young woman named Kennedy.

Imagine reading something like that on every page, for 200+ pages. What’s most unfortunate is that the story itself is lost in the barrage of newfangled words and “check this out!” navel-gazing. If you thought Grant Morrison was annoying, you should read Howard Rheingold’s work in The Savage Report. Like Morrison, he has a tendency to constantly remind the reader how cool and trendsetting he is, not to mention how in touch he is with the changing forces of the future.

Well anyway, Smoky successfully talks Jack into going undercover with her – he poses as someone into the New World Organ and she goes undercover as a “neophyte priestess” (aka “groupie priestess”) with the followers of Ha-Marani. But shortly thereafter Smoky is abducted by the Entropid Order, who Illuminatus! style go around in a massive submarine, subverting authority. Here on the opulent ship she gets real friendly real quick with Maxwell Damion, one of the captains of the sub, Worldbringer.

After a psychedelic brainwash session with ComCent, the computer software that trains other computer software and is apparently behind the Entropids, Smoky deduces that E. Luther Worldbringer, their leader, is in fact a hologram and upon defeating the computer she is hailed as the new leader of the Entropids. Meanwhile Jack Anderson totally blows his cover when he discovers Smoky is missing, just outright taking off from a woman, Shiva von Toten, who is supposed to be his “in” with the NWO.

Gradually, amid more breathless futurespeak and occasional cutovers to Eve Savage, sometimes meeting with her “tripletrank moodchanger”-inhaling boss, tycoon Lance Wilmott, the plot unfolds and the “surprise” villain is revealed – none other than Dok Tek, returning from the previous volume. That Tek is the villain is spoiled by the back cover, which clearly states he has returned to cause more misfortune, even though he doesn’t show up until nearly the end of the novel itself, and his reveal is intended as a surprise.

Another thing missing this volume is the heated relationship between Jack and Eve Savage, not to mention the liberal approach to drugs of the first volume. Jack does pop some “neurostims” in the final pages, though, amping him up to take on gigantic clones of Dok Tek. This finale by the way takes place in the high-tech underworld beneath New Jersey; we’re informed that the state itself is now a massive computer center. (Also Denver has been destroyed by some plague, and now people there live in the Logan's Run style “Denver Dome.”)

But it all just becomes mired in so much technobabble and New Age mumbo-jumbo. Even the sporadic action that livened up the previous book is gone. As mentioned though, Rheingold certainly knew at least one direction the future was pointing; for example, he adds “cyber” to a bunch of words, though unfortunately none of them are “punk.” But he clearly foresees how central computers and entertainment are going to be to the world of the future.

War Of The Gurus is ultimately wearying, not to mention confusing, but one has to at least appreciate the author’s enthusiasm. It clearly seems to be a finale for the series itself, despite the back cover’s promise of a monthly series, with Jack and Smoky faking their deaths – even Eve believes they’re really dead – and taking off together for a life out of the limelight. Given that no future volumes were ever published, one must assume that is where they remained.

1 comment:

russell1200 said...

Funny what a short take they have on such a convoluted affair.

For a minute I was thinking the author was Luke Reinhold of The Dice Man fame.