Marcus Alexander Hart, The Oblivion Society (New York: Permuted Press, 2007), 303pp
I don't really know whether I like The Oblivion Society. I realised pretty early on that I would never give it more than a three-star rating, but during the course of my reading I flip-flopped repeatedly between two- and three-star assessments. Eventually, I concluded that the bad bits of the novel outweighed the good - and there were indeed some good parts. I reasoned that, whilst I might recommend some of my other three-star-reviewed books to others on certain merits, I would not do so with The Oblivion Society as the good bits were not plentiful enough to mitigate the poor.
The characters are mostly entertaining and one or two are endearing. Vivian, the protagonist, is likeable and capable - the straight man (well, woman) foil to everyone else's comedic fools. However, she is very much a character - an avatar drawn rather than someone that leaps off the page. She is a cute, petite redhead girl with 'sexy librarian' glasses and a geeky, down-to-earth personality. The only way she could be more of a geeky guy's dream girl was if she was dressed in a Princess Leia slave bikini. Consequently, she lacks authenticity.
Of the other major characters, Bobby and Erik are rather ordinary and their geeky banter often falls flat. Sherri is a good character who has most of the best lines, and her constant aggressiveness never annoys. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for Trent, a thoroughly obnoxious loudmouth jock who stinks up every scene he is in (and he is in a lot). It's not that he is badly written; it is clear that the author, Marcus Alexander Hart, chose to make him into an unlikeable asshole. The question is: why? As a reader, you don't think, "Ooh, I hope he gets his comeuppance." You just want him to fuck off. He makes reading the book a bit of a chore at times as you trudge through his scenes - it took me much longer than anticipated to finish the book as whenever I put it down I didn't really feel like picking it up again if it meant having to listen to more of "the T-Dawg, yo".
There are a fair few laughs to be had here, but most of the attempts at comedy fall flat. Too often, the author is scraping the bottom of the barrel with frat-boy sexual innuendo and banal schoolboy humour, reaching a nadir on page 181 when a character is referred to as 'Mr. Poo Poo Pants'. That said, it does have one or two peaks as well. Sherri, as I mentioned above, has a number of good lines ('torpedo tits' on page 210 and 'Sgt. Pepper' on page 212 being my favourites), although the best laugh came, surprisingly, from Erik with his 'governor of Texas' line on page 257. There are also one or two moments where Hart shows he has the potential to put together a story. There is some clever foreshadowing just before the bomb goes off ("it's not the end of the world", "nothing bad's going to happen if you just let your hair down", etc.) and the burned shadows in the aftermath of the bomb are rather creepy. There is also some decent camaraderie among the group of survivors towards the end of Chapter 11 when the dialogue all seems to click into place, and it's a real shame that Hart could not show such skill consistently.
All in all, I found The Oblivion Society to be a disappointing, rather than a bad, novel; disappointing as it occasionally shows sparks of what could have been. I was initially drawn to the book by the prospect of the survivors relying on "half-remembered pop culture" to "ride out Armageddon", as the blurb promises us. Whilst there are attempts at this, it is often discarded in favour of cheap frat-boy banter and innuendo. If the author had embraced his inner geek more when creating his dialogue and embraced it less when creating his characters (the noble geek Erik, the dream girl Vivian, etc.) then it might have been more consistently enjoyable. "Any comedy about a nuclear apocalypse is guaranteed to suck," Sherri tell us on page 272, no doubt a knowing wink to the reader from the author. The Oblivion Society doesn't suck, but it doesn't not suck either, if you get what I mean.