First published back in December of 2016, S.T. Gulik’s debut novel ‘Birth’ formed the first instalment in his ‘Chakra King Trilogy’.

DLS Synopsis:
The Divine Disturbance was probably the best thing that ever happened to Max Quick, which he had to admit, was a bit pathetic considering it had happened to everyone else too.  Nevertheless he was quite happy about the effects it had had on his life.  Since “the day everything happened at once” his body had been able to heal really fast.  In fact. Max had learnt to get by without functioning organs.

The Divine Disturbance did have its less desirable sides though.    Since its almighty occurrence the dead no longer stayed dead.  Not that the walking dead were really that much of a problem for the living.  They just shambled around the streets, not really doing much else other than cluttering up the place.  Still, some do-gooder activists insisted these walking sacks of dead flesh still had rights.  Which was tiresome to say the least.

To say Max was somewhat unhappy with his lot in life would be something of a colossal understatement.  Everyone seemed to piss him off.  He saw the world as an overly-commercialised caricature of reality.  All Max wanted to do was drown his sorrows in the comfort of his own flat.  Unfortunately it appeared that’s not how life works.

Although receiving a new pet for free from a stall owner for merely walking down the street brushed away some of his gloom and frustration.  He named the cheekworm Cakey.  Born from the first DNA that it came into contact with - which was Max’s - the cheekworm quickly became Max’s doting, uber-protective half-offspring.

However, things quickly go from bad to worse for Max when a bunch of mutant terrorists, known by all as the Iiites, pour out from the sewers and begin wreaking havoc around him.  Max is thrown into the violent chaos, and together with Cakey, the two manage to fight and kill all six of the maniacal mutants.

All of a sudden Max now finds himself thrust into the limelight.  The Media© go crazy for his supposedly heroic actions.  Defeating one Iiite is no small feat – let along six of the rampaging bastards.  But before he knows what’s going on, he finds that he’s being targeted by the Iiites for what he did.  Nowhere is safe anymore.  Together with his masochist fuck-buddy Scarlet, the two are flung into a global conspiracy where nothing and no one is as it seems…

DLS Review:
So yeah, I guess from the above synopsis you get a reasonable idea of the sort of mind-boggling madness to expect from S.T. Gulik’s debut offering.  It’s wacky and off-the-wall-weird with a proper dose of Bizarro pumping through its veins.  If you imagine a weirdly uncensored episode of ‘Futurama’ that’s been written by Duncan Bradshaw, or some other strangely eccentric Bizzaro writer, then you’re going to be edging in the right direction of what Gulik has to offer.

The plot itself - never mind the over-the-top intricacies that litter the entirety of the tale – is so elaborately contrived, so utterly perverse and wildly convoluted, that you’ll find yourself sucked into the wacky back-and-forth madness of it all within minutes of commencing battle with the book.  Indeed, the fanatical overlaying of the different sides in the story, along with all the double-crossing and slippery double-agents, makes for a veritable quagmire of brain-swelling madness that, if you don’t keep your eye on the proverbial ball at all times, will soon leave you utterly lost and perplexed.

The tale’s set in the not-too-far-away future, although its exact place in our history is never properly disclosed.  Due to the Divine Disturbance everything’s a bit fucked up.  First off you’ve got the living dead aimlessly wondering around all over the shop.  Although after the first handful of chapters the whole ‘zombie’ aspect to the novel seems to peter out a tad (although never completely).  Then of course you’ve got the speed-healing and all them messed-up mutations to contend with.  Oh the fun!

Of course, a lot of the entertainment in the novel is in the intricate, highly imaginative details.  That’s where the likes of sci-fi and Bizarro often really excel.  And, with Gulik’s novel firmly embedded in both quarters, it’s here that ‘Birth’ absolutely needs to play to its strengths to really get the reader on side.  And by Lucifer’s Beard doesn’t it do that!

There’s just so much imagination poured into all these wonderfully interwoven details.  So much wit and outlandish colour.  There’s even a separate appendix located at the end of the book which is “there if you want to delve a little deeper into the history” (to quote the author).  Of course it’s all so very rich with a bold-as-brass social commentary throughout.  Like a Romero movie on acid, there’s so much of this tongue-in-cheek social commentary and crazy-ass distorted satire, that you’ll be hard pressed to hide that sneaky little smirk every time you pick the book up for another dose of Gulik madness.

However for me where the absolute strength in the book lies is with how Gulik manages to include so much over-the-top wacky Bizzaro shit, yet still somehow keeping our feet firmly embedded on terra firma.  What I mean by this is, even though some of the stuff that’s detailed in the story is pretty off-the-wall, at no time is it just completely random and merely weird for weird’s sake.  There’s always a reason for an imaginative oddity or strange perversion to what’s ‘normal’ in our lives.  If something’s different then it’s different for a reason.  And Gulik will interweave that inspired reasoning, however wacky it itself might be, into every nook and cranny of the tale.

That for me this is where this first book truly won me over.  Something in the story is at complete odds with how we view the world.  At first it just seems to be a random perversion of our reality.  But Gulik doesn’t leave it there.  This is no lazy man’s Bizarro.  Instead Gulik works in a lunatic’s justification to his mutation of the norm.  But it works.  And as such, everything has a reason for being different.  Every oddity is balls-out-weird for a reason.  To be honest it’s pretty fucking clever and just shows this guy’s got one hell of an imagination.

That said, the novel does start to become a victim of its own strangeness.  Around the two-thirds to three-quarter mark, the elaborate chaos of the plot and all the interwoven oddities all begin to get a tad too dense.  Before you know it, you’re feeling a bit lost and are forced to start backpedalling to relocate the frayed end of that vital thread that’s been guiding you through the tale thus far.  When this happens, it’s somewhat inevitable that the story’s going to start to feel like hard work – which is somewhere you never want a tale like this to go.

That said, even when you’re feeling bombarded with lunacy and more back-and-forth double-crossing than you can shake a malformed limb at, there’s still plenty of enjoyment to be had from it all.  And the tale – well this first book in the trilogy – ends pretty darn well.  There’s an explosive finale, things get wrapped-up quite nicely, but nevertheless Gulik leaves enough open for part two to properly get its teeth into.

But let’s be honest, who knows where the holy fuck Gulik’s going to take book two?!

The novel runs for a total of 232 pages.

 © DLS Reviews

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