(Big O, London, 1978)
The blurb on the back:
Some time in the future in a world of gleaming glass megastructures, interspersed with slum remains, society is set in rigid economic groups. The ultimate goal has become a lifetime in The Feelies - hooked up to sensory input machines, entombed in coffin-like structures, living out private fantasies manufactured to order.
For younger readers who may not know him: Mick Farren was, in the dark, dark days before punk, pretty much the coolest rock hack in Britain. Originally he wanted to be a rock star (who didn't?), but after the splintering of his band The Deviants, he instead reverted to his role as a key player in the underground press, in which capacity he found himself in 1973 in the dock at the Old Bailey defending his comic, Nasty Tales, against a charge of obscenity. To be fair, the comic was obscene by any normal definition, but what the fuck that had to do with the law remains unclear.
In his hugely recommended book Offensive Literature, John Sutherland devotes a brief chapter to the trial, and points out the acquittal was assisted by the fact that the property qualification for jury service had been abolished in 1972. Just in case the significance of that statement was missed, I'll repeat it: up until 1972 - just 30 years ago at the time of writing - British citizens were not entitled to sit on a jury unless they were home-owners. What an extraordinary country this is.
Anyway, Nasty Tales was acquitted but ceased publication soon afterwards due to lack of interest, and Farren moved on to the NME, where he stood out like an anarchist hipster in a field of angsty hippies: in common with a handful of other oddities from the era - Lemmy leaps to mind - he actually made a lot more sense once punk had changed the landscape and swept all that prog nonsense away. At which stage, of course, he promptly reformed The Deviants.
So this is an early novel and it's really a pretty good read. It's not exactly drowning in original concepts - there's stuff here borrowed from the entire history of science fiction, from The Time Machine and Forster's 'The Machine Stops' onwards - but the elements are recombined convincingly enough and the result is kind of fun. It's also wonderfully unfocussed for such a short book, with little storylines spinning off all over the place. In particular, the concept of the Feelies - as the ultimate total-immersion entertainment experience - allows Farren to break up the main narrative arc with short little fantasy chapters about the Old West or greaser gangs in the '50s or the crucifixion of Our Lord.
On balance, it's one of the best novels I've read by a rock journalist. (Apologies to Tony Parsons.) And it has some very nice illustrations by Chris Welch.
Note: I don't know whether the American band The Feelies named themselves after this book, but do seek out their 1980 debut album Crazy Rhythms if you get the chance - it's fantastic.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 4/5
visit Funtopia - Mick Farren's homepage
John Gill, Hype!