Mercury Falls: A Renal ReviewNovember 15, 2010
Back in the day we used to be listed on a directory called Humor-Blogs.com which was run by Rob Kroese (aka Diesel), who also runs the blog Mattress Police. If you have a keen eye, you’ll see Diesel’s visage in our sidebar saying that we won one of his caption contests once.
Anyway, Diesel wrote a novel, self-published it, and did so well marketing the thing that it got picked up by Amazon Encore and given a wider release, which gives us hope here at Renal Failure for the success of our various literary projects that we’ve been hacking away at for undetermined periods of time, such as our short-lived “Political Pundits Who Look Like Child Molesters” series, Bernie the Half-Cyborg Cat’s “Manifesto of Feline Dominance,” and Tag Larkin’s “Cockslap Your Way to a Firmer Stomach.” So what this means is that it doesn’t matter what we say about the book, it’s already a success for Rob Kroese.
Now after responding to his open request for bloggers to review his book we received a free signed copy of Mercury Falls from the author himself. Well, not necessarily signed because he printed his name, but then again no one is using cursive much anymore. Or maybe because it’s we’ve never done a book review here at Renal Failure before and so he’s saving the trouble of making looping connected letters for the genuinely literary-minded.
Anyway, Mercury Falls. The book in question. It is not the sequel to the movie Mercury Rising, where Bruce Willis protects an autistic kid from being killed by Alec Baldwin. This a point in Rob’s favor because that movie sucked, conversely meaning that Alec Baldwin succeeding in killing autistic kids would be a really good movie.
Also in Mercury Falls’ favor is the fact that it is not this book…
I actually got mad at Spook Country for how bad it was. And it’s not because William Gibson has shifted from cyberpunk or 20-minutes from now sci-fi stories to more recent settings because I liked the previous book Pattern Recognition, at least up until it fizzled out at the end. Spook Country fizzled out at the beginning and just got worse from there with overly passive characters and a plot where pretty much nothing was at stake. I think I screamed at this book “DO SOMETHING! SOMEONE DO SOMETHING!” a few times but my wishes went ungranted. Every so often I look at my bookcase, see it sitting on my shelf, extend my middle finger and yell “Fuck you, Spook Country!”*
Within the first sixty pages of Mercury Falls, however, a fight breaks out amongst members of an apocalyptic cult disappointed that they miscalculated when the End Times would arrive, a demon sets fire to an apartment, and a missile blows up a house. Perhaps Rob also read Spook Country and did not want his readers to yell “DO SOMETHING!” at his book. If that is the case then Rob made a very wise move. We believe in one of the interviews he did on someone else’s blog he said he tried to end each chapter with an explosion, which we find to be a good way to guarantee something fucking happens in your story, which automatically makes it better than Spook Country.
Another wise move on Rob’s part is that he does an excellent job at tying everything together in the book, so that few things are just there to be there. The emphasis on linoleum floors in the beginning of the book has a payoff later. The references to the Harry Potter-esque Charlie Nyx and his series of books has a payoff later. That’s what makes people like your book: paying shit off. A few things don’t necessarily pay off, like Mercury’s fascination with ping-pong, but that’s reminiscent of God being a Skee-Ball fanatic in the movie Dogma, though the Skee-ball fanaticism was actually important to the story. But luckily the things that don’t pay off don’t take anything away from everything else that does so it’s a concern of trifling importance.
You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned the plot of Mercury Falls yet, and that’s because you can get it pretty much anywhere else. Like the back of the book or its page on Amazon.com or someone else on Rob’s MFing Blog Tour who has reviewed the book. But if you must know we’ll give you the short, short version: it’s about a lazy angel and a journalist trying to stop Armageddon, so again it has Spook Country soundly beat, this time regarding the topic of what is at stake for the protagonists and antagonists.
Fuck you Spook Country.
Mercury Falls isn’t without a few issues. After its impressive start it does start to stumble and grind past the mid-point, bogged down in a lot of overexplanations in the dialogue. Heaven and Hell as a bureaucracy is nice idea but after a while it starts feeling like a crutch to justify things in the story. The resolution to Armageddon seems a bit flat too, not a deus ex machina but still overly convenient to be truly satisfying** though the final chapter provides a proper denouement that many books fail to provide so it ends strong. But its biggest issue for us might be that we had the distinct feeling we had heard of a book much like Mercury Falls years before… authored by Neil Gaiman… perhaps published in 1990…
We find the blurb about Good Omens being a direct descendant of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy interesting considering in his interview with Amazon Rob says that Hitchhiker’s Guide was the book that had the “most significant impact” on his life, regarding fiction that is. We just happened to have a copy of Good Omens in the Renal Library that we only got a third of the way through before posting this review because of time constraints, and from that read third we can say that though the subject matter is the same (e.g. the coming Apocalypse), they are indeed separate tales. The tones of both books are similar with its dry humor and its footnotes (though Mercury has less of them), but we’re going to consider Mercury Falls the American Hitchhiker’s Guide to Apocalypse while Good Omens is the British Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Apocalypse. Whichever one you prefer may possibly stem from either your penchant for American-style writing and cultural references compared to British ones, or from your personal fandom for either the guy who ran Humor-Blogs.com or two of the more popular and beloved authors from Britain. I mean, dude, it’s Gaiman and Pratchett. Ain’t nothing to be ashamed of if they beat you. It’s fucking Gaiman and Pratchett.
Note: We may have had the same problem with the ending of Mercury Falls that we did with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. When you allude to some huge battle to end all battles and it gets averted, the reader cannot help but feel disappointed. ***
If you’re not sure if you’re like your Douglas Adams-spiced religious-themed Apocalyptic fiction in American sweet tea or British Earl Grey flavors, just buy both books and cover both bases. Now we may not have paid money for Mercury Falls, but if we had we wouldn’t be disappointed that we did. Unlike Spook Country. Fuck Spook Country.
*My copy of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, however, gets nothing but supportive comments and soft caresses.
** The calling off of the Apocalypse on Heaven’s end at the end of Mercury Falls reminded me of the 2008 remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still, specifically where alien Keanu Reeves decides not to let the Earth be destroyed. Oh no…. only now after 90 minutes of movie where you hang out with John Cleese at his house and watch disinterestedly as Jaden Smith and Jennifer Connolly share a cry in a graveyard that you decide that the human race is worth saving? How fucking convenient, as if there were no other examples of humanity’s humanity to witness beforehand. Fuck I’m glad I didn’t pay to see that movie, otherwise I’d be really pissed.
*** Has anyone really had the balls to end their novel or movie with a cataclysmic catastrophe possibly resulting in the extinction of all life on Earth? The last one I can remember was when CBS aired a show on Halloween night called Without Warning, a sort of modern day War of the Worlds fictional newscast except the aliens were slamming meteors into the Earth in an attempt to make first contact and the Americans blow up the meteors, thus declaring war on the aliens. The show ends with the aliens raining down thousands of meteors on us. Pretty ballsy for 1994.