‘Psychic Steampunk Parade’ by Gray Kane
With so much throwaway entertainment massing like a cancer, it’s easy for good fiction to slip past our net of awareness. So much that we enjoy, things that were once bolstered partially by their esoteric nature alone, has become hegemonized, comodified, and slapped with a “For Sale” sticker. As a result, consumers of intelligent entertainment have pulled the drawstrings tight causing exceptional art to slip beyond the periphery of our view finder. Stretch your arms, reach beyond the confines of your comfort zone and grasp firmly onto Gray Kane’s Psychic Steampunk Parade; though your mind might not forgive you.
Kane’s work manages to tell a big story in succinct, fast-paced fashion while repeatedly socking you in the brain with psionic haymakers. Typically, when one says he or she “felt” whilst consuming a work of fiction, that person usually means that his or her emotions were tweaked. Kane takes a different approach altogether and, like a drug, Psychic Steampunk Parade seeps into your gray matter and does a nifty little dance all over your cerebral cortex. There are times when you’ll swear that you actually feel your neurons firing.
As you dab at your nose to make certain that nothing important has leaked out, you will undoubtedly use your free hand to rapidly turn page after page to follow Josie, the biker-hipster-heroine as she traverses a surrealist landscape in a sometimes humorously hyperbolic South Florida. An artist (and “independent” tattooist) whose chosen symbolic medium is gun metal, specifically silencers, Josie becomes a psychic-detective of sorts after her consciousness rapidly leaps from one mind to another in what she initially chalks up to a bizarre dream. Like any good Chandler-esque detective, Josie “pokes” around, taking the psychic-soul-temperature of others whom she believes might have knowledge of her experience. All the while, she harbors suspicion that the sinking feeling of having lured something out might be, perhaps, more than a sneaking suspicion. And it does not take long to learn that, as our inked-up protagonist would say, the shadow has become a real demon.
A leather bikini-clad martial arts expert (who also does a stint as an overgrown Barbie doll and cuckoo clock ornament –don’t ask), Jose finds herself at the epicenter of a psychic apocalypse. Accompanied by her overweight sidekicks, Amygdala and Maligdula, who are armed with insufficient maturity and a plethora of pop culture references, Josie charges into a spiritual war despite a less than complete understanding of what she is faced with; Malidgdula does his utmost to aid her while Amygdala is humorously indifferent to the three’s plight at times. After a cataclysmic event, the three find themselves dispossessed of their bodies – or, perhaps, the idea of their bodies – and must again unite in quest to set the world (or their concept of it) right.
Amidst bodies inhabited by dispossessed souls, cosplaying teens, demons from a parallel dimension, and a lot of homeless guys, Kane manages to weave a fairly lucid narrative through a universe that can be, at best, described as exceedingly existential and, at worst, ultra convoluted. Kane succeeds, however, in stretching the reader’s imagination with an inventive idea that fans of the genre will appreciate.
Josie is a likable protagonist and Kane develops her in a wholly creative and imaginative way that even the savviest reader will not foretell and this is his other most notable achievement in the work. Enjoyable and entertaining though her two sidekicks are, their development is limited for much of the novel, serving merely as comic foil, and any cohesive sense among the three seems based on proximity rather than connection though, arguably, this is Kane’s intention.
What makes the novel a terrific read for some will simultaneously make it a troublesome read for others. The concepts explored are vast, cerebral, and require from the reader a substantial amount of abstract consideration which detracts from much of the tension Kane seeks to create. Though it seems that Kane has a sense of humor about this as well because after Josie explains one of the more complex pieces of the puzzle, Amydala metafictively and sarcastically replies: “That was cogent.” The fast-paced and involved plot will distract some readers – who may, at times, find themselves merely hanging on in the hope that more answers will be revealed – from some of the more textured scenes in the novel. This is unfortunate because Kane possesses a distinct style and strong technical skill and some of his best writing comes in his more tense scenes. Yet, some readers might feel as though the more traditional plot devices of fiction (such as tension in this instance) are secondary to the concepts being explored.
This novel will beloved by fans of surrealist fiction and, at the very least, elicit several chuckles from non-fans for its odd inventiveness.
(Image courtesy of Gray Kane.)
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