No dice, man
released 6 september 432 pages | paperback Author luke rhinehart Publisher titan books
Luke Rhinehart passed away in August 2012, only to change his mind and come back to life again a few months later. It’s a neat trick, made even more impressive when you consider that he’d never actually existed in the first place.
Rhinehart, of course, is the alter ego of George Cockcroft, whose 1971 novel The Dice Man – about a psychiatrist who resolves to make every decision on the throw of a die – inspired a minor movement among people who figured blind chance might be as good a way of navigating this world as any. Cockcroft himself, meanwhile, assumed the lead character’s name – and a fair share of his philosophy – for all subsequent writings, deliberately blurring the line between man and myth.
Invasion – the 83-year-old’s first novel since his faked death and subsequent resurrection – uses an incursion by hyper-intelligent alien fuzzballs as the pretext for a droll yet impassioned assessment of modern America’s prodigious shortcomings: all the boiling madness of the 21st century as seen through the eyes of visiting extra-terrestrials.
Despite being “hairy beachballs” with only rudimentary shapeshifting abilities, the ETs succeed in launching a sophisticated cyber-attack on everything from Wall Street to the President’s Twitter account, with the apparent intention of bringing about social justice and a wholesale redistribution of wealth entirely for kicks.
They find a largely willing – if frequently bewildered – accomplice in Billy Morton, a grizzled Long Island fisherman roped in to help them game the system. Though Rhinehart employs his trademark device of regularly switching narrators, it’s this former ’60s radical – a thinly-veiled avatar of the reclusive author himself (at one point, he even fakes his own death) – who relates the lion’s share of the action, in a style that eschews literary flourish in favour of a folksy, down-home wisdom. Along with his wife and sons, Billy finds himself tossed on a tide of events that carry him from Bermuda to Baghdad, aiding and abetting the Hairy Balls in their fight against a succession of foaming right-wing hawks and blowhards.
As America stares down the barrel of a possible Trump presidency, there’s perhaps never been a more urgent need for a new Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five. And from corporate greed and rampant consumerism to gun control, military disasters in the Middle East and draconian Homeland Security legislation, Rhinehart has plenty of targets in his crosshairs.
But the truth is he is no Heller or Vonnegut, and there’s a frustratingly woolly naivety to much of his analysis of the world’s ills, which he’s partial to delivering via weighty infodumps with only tangential relevance to the story. These reach peak sledgehammerto-nut ratio in the regular break-out “Items From The News”, which strive for the satirical bite of The Onion, but feel more like being beaten about the head by a series of Occupy placards. (The UK, for example, is described as “a US aircraft carrier lying off the coast of Europe, used for bombing Arabs in various places in the Middle East and Africa”. Ba dum tish.)
There’s much to enjoy in Invasion: you’ll root for old Billy, while the aliens themselves – beings of unfathomable higher intelligence disguised, often literally, as wisecracking goofballs – are terrific fun. And few will blame a Zen-loving veteran peacenik like Rhinehart for despairing as he continues to watch the American dream curdle. But the net result often feels less like a novel than the collected thoughts of the guy at the next barstool – a national autopsy conducted with the bluntest of blunt instruments. Paul Kirkley
Both Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and Duncan Jones (Moon) have tried to develop Dice Man movies, without success.
Rhinehart has plenty of targets in his crosshairs