“It’s a hard world to be good in.”
With the title Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, how could I resist reading this novel by American author, former English professor, Victor Gischler? I read this wild roller-coaster ride of a novel in one sitting and enjoyed every page. Yes, I know, it won’t win the Pulitzer, but who cares?
The glorious front cover includes a quote from author James Rollins: “Part Christopher Moore, part Quentin Tarantino, Victor Gischler is a raving badass genius.” I’d say Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse is Duane Swierczynski on a trip through Mad-Max territory.
As the title suggests, this is a post-apocalypse novel set in the near future. The protagonist is Mortimer Tate, a 38-year-old insurance salesman. Correct that. Former insurance agent. And here’s how civilization ended:
No single thing had doomed Mortimer’s planet. Rather it had been a confluence of disasters. Some dramatic and sudden, others a slow silent decay.
The worldwide flu epidemic had come and gone with fewer deaths than predicted. Humanity emerged from that long winter and smiled nervously at one another. A sigh of relief, a bullet dodged.
That April the big one hit.
So long feared, it finally happened. The earth awoke, humped up its spine along the San Andreas. The destruction from L.A. to San Francisco defied comprehension. The earthquake sent rumbles across the Pacific, tsunamis pounding Asia. F.E.M.A. immediately declared its inadequacy and turned over operations to the military. The death toll numbered in the millions, and nothing–not food nor fuel–made it through West Coast seaports. The shortages were rapidly felt across the Midwest. Supermarkets emptied, and no trucks arrived to supply them.
Wall Street panicked.
Nine days later a Saudi terrorist detonated a nuclear bomb in a large tote bag on the steps of the Capitol building. Both houses of Congress were in session. The president and the vice president and most of the cabinet were obliterated.
The secretary of the interior was found and sworn in. This didn’t sit well with a four-star general who had other ideas. Civil war.
Economic spasms reached the European and Asian markets.
Israel dropped nukes on Cairo, Tehran and targets in Syria.
Pakistan and India went at it.
China and Russia went at it.
The world went at it.
It was pretty much downhill from there.
When the book begins, our hero Mortimer Tate is holed up in a well-stocked cabin on the top of a Tennessee mountain. He retreated to this remote site with a pile of supplies nine years ago as a way of refusing to sign his divorce papers. In the meantime, civilization went to hell in a handbasket, and since the portable batteries for his radio ran out the first year, Mortimer has no way of knowing what is going on in the world beyond his refuge. Mortimer is getting bored and lonely when 3 stragglers from the outside world invade his zone. As a result, Mortimer decides to head back, check out what is going on and find his wife, Anne.
Mortimer discovers that the situation is worse, and far more dangerous, than he could have imagined. Some people have banded together to form roving tribes of marauders. Other people band together in isolated, bizarre utopian groups. Still others have turned to cannibalism. But there’s a burgeoning form of society in a chain of Joey Armageddon Sassy-A-Go-Go clubs strung out across America. Joey Armageddon’s oases of fun and pleasure are basically economic trade zones. The clubs feature home-made hooch (Freddy’s Piss Yellow, Freddy’s Piss Vinegar Vodka, Major Dundee’s Slow-Motion Gin), its own currency (Armageddon dollars–a piece of metal with a “primitive stamping” of a mushroom cloud on one side), and go-go girls. The club lights and music are powered by chained prisoners who are forced to pedal stationary bicycles that generate power (remember those Roman galley slaves? It’s the same sort of philosophy here). With rare goods to trade for Armageddon dollars, Mortimer becomes a card-carrying, platinum member of Joey Armageddon’s go-go clubs.
Mortimer hooks up with a man named Bill– a latter-day cowboy, a man who dons a cowboy outfit, complete with a black cowboy hat, an ankle length duster, and a pair of pistols. Bill is one of the few good guys left:
“I don’t know why I did it at first,” admitted Bill. “I always liked westerns, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, you know? Think about what a cowboy is, what he represents. The new order rolling across the prairie, right? Even when he was slaughtering buffalo and red indians, he still left civilization in his wake, towns and railroads and all that. I guess maybe I thought we needed cowboys again. Maybe not. Hell, I don’t know. Probably sounds stupid.”
Bill and Mortimer team up together to find Mortimer’s missing wife, Anne, who’s rumoured to be in Chattanooga. Once they leave the semi-safe Armageddon zone with its almost pathetic pretensions of civilization and order, Bill and Mortimer discover just how awful the world has become. It’s non-stop action all the way as the two men pick up stripper Sheila as the third member of the group, and together they travel to Chattanooga to find Anne. There’s no petrol available–although there are rumours that refineries may be working again, so Bill, Mortimer and Sheila find a range of ways (most of them dangerous and unwise) to travel to their chosen destination. You couldn’t pay me to ride on the Muscle Express.
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse was bought on a whim, but this won’t be the only novel I read by this author. The novel is firmly rooted in pulp, and in spite of the fact that some of the action does stretch the imagination, this is a very visual tale. As I read, I found myself wondering just what would happen, what would become of ‘civilisation’ if the world ended? After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, we got a glimpse of the potential problems the world would face with the collapse of civilisation: police shooting unarmed black Americans (and then hiding their actions), rumours of rape and murder, allegations of euthanasia of aged patients, animals abandoned, looting, & thousands of people stranded the Superdome. Even the governor made statements about the deputized troops sent to the area who would shoot and kill (with their “Locked and loaded M-16s”). What would happen to the world if a disaster such as Katrina were repeated but on a much broader, more destructive scale and then extended over years?
I read the novel, I decided that Gischler was probably spot on with some of his predictions.
This brings me to one of the complaints I read about the book. Some reviewers found it sexist. Women are bought and sold, kept in bikinis, and they also titillate the male customers of the Joey Armageddon’s Sassy-a-Go-Go chain. But since the novel is set post-Apocalypse, somehow I don’t think PC values would survive through the New World Order. Gischler seems to have a lot of fun imagining just what would survive the Apocalypse, and it is funny to note than humankind quickly resurrects strip joints, slavery and rotgut booze–after all, these are the rudimentary necessities, right? This is a savage, violent world in which people cling to each other to survive but the shared values of most of the loosely-formed groups are based on very practical principles. In Gischler’s world, there’s no time for sensitivity, but still time for humour. But lest readers should think that all the female characters exist as sex objects, here’s Tyler Kane:
A slender figure appeared atop the crates in front of them, looked down on the two passengers in the theater seats. The newcomer’s face wasn’t clear at first, a dark silhouette against the morning sun. Mortimer held up a hand, shaded his eyes to get a look. A woman.
“Don’t puke on my train,” she said.
Mortimer looked down, closed his eyes. It took too much energy to hold his head up. “Your train?”
“I’m Tyler Kane. I’m the train captain.”
She hopped down from the crates, and Mortimer got a better look at her. Athletically thin, hard body like a track star. She wore black leather pants and a matching jacket too light for the cold, a white turtleneck underneath. A nickel-plated revolver sprung from her waistband. Her hair was burgundy red, cut close on the sides and spiked on top. A black patch covered her left eye, and a thin white scar leaked from under the patch and ran straight down to the edge of her angular jawline. Her one eye was bright and blue as an arctic lake. She had the palest skin Mortimer had ever seen on someone still alive.
“You’re paying passengers, so you don’t have to do anything except stay out of the way,” Tyler said. “If we’re attacked, be prepared to repel boarders. If you vomit, stick your head over the side. Any questions?
And guess what? This is in production. Here’s a clip: