Grand Junction: A Bold Idea Hampered by Its Execution

Maurice Dantec's Grand Junction is a metaphysical cyberspace epic; a Dickian post-apocalyptic future that questions our reliance on machines as a metaphor for human preoccupation with the material. Or, at least, it's supposed to be.

Certainly, Dantec intends it to be, and he does a decent job of steeping Grand Junction in the recognizable characteristics of a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk future, ranging from the expected (shanty towns with ad-hoc cultures, evil supercomputers) to the more-than-slightly awesome (ex-Russian military talking cyborg dogs). There is plenty of neat, interesting material here: the book takes place after the collapse of the governing "metastructure", a super-supercomputer that essentially ran the entire planet earth. It took society with it when it collapsed, then began to mutate-first into a kind of "virus" that began destroying the remnants of functional technology, then into a metaphysical virus that began attacking language itself. Gabriel Link de Nova, born on the day the metastructure died, has the power to undo the damage that it causes and save the world, and only his two stone-cold killer best friends, Chrysler Campbell and Yuri McCoy, can help him. It's an interesting enough premise, and the key to saving the world is apparently rock and roll, which earns the book a few extra points from the start.

The problem is Dantec himself. He is, in the first place, a shameless rhapsode, often going on at length about whatever in the scene seems to catch his attention; he spends, at one point, two pages naming every single type of plant on a nearby hill. One of the characters (Judith Sevigny) cannot appear in the narrative without Dantec devoting at least one, more often two or three, paragraphs to how beautiful she is. There are times with this approach turns out some really stellar turns of phrase, though it's unclear how much that can be credited to Dantec, since the book was translated from the French; but here I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dantec also uses a peculiar, repetitive technique that is, I think, meant to evoke epic literature. He'll make a narrative statement, usually some shocking revelation for the characters, and then repeat it in a more simplified form.

He emphasizes himself through studied reiteration and simplification.

Simplified emphasis is the core of his technique.

Like this.

It's not inherently bad-nor, indeed, is there anything wrong with waxing rhapsodic from time to time-but the power of the technique is undermined by how often he deploys it: at least twice a chapter, at times every few pages. It's alienating and, taken in concert with his flights into the adoration of Judith Sevigny, kind of exhausting.

The worst part of all this is that, if one manages to persevere in the face of his epic verbosity, one finds that Grand Junction's core is a gooey center of French Deconstructionalist philosophy somehow merged with 13th century Catholic theology. The pretense of "science" is only flirted with, and quickly abandoned, as the disease that the metastructure has become turns out to be…well, it's hard to say precisely what. The devil, maybe, in the form of language, trapped by its need to both kill all of humanity but also to keep killing all of humanity. Dantec doesn't make the process of understanding any easier, as he seems to coin new terms and phrases, or else dig up old ones from the 13th century, in order to describe concepts that the characters in the book don't even think they can explain to each other.

Worse than all of that is the fact that when it does come time to explain how a 13,000 volume library from the Vatican is going to help fight a supercomputer that's turned into a psychic virus that attacks electricity, using theories developed by Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, the relentlessly pragmatic Chrysler Campbell typically responds with something like, "Well, of course. We knew that already." There's never any question that the situation in the book is anything other than what the Catholic theologians describe-a new Fall, a religious apocalypse and, presumably, a second coming. It's problematic for a narrative, when you've set up your antagonist as the devil and your protagonist as an analogue for Christ. There's something about such predestiny that saps the narrative of a certain dramatic tension.

Taken all together, what was a promising metaphysical-cyberpunk premise turns out to be a turgid, pretentious exercise in confusion.

Grand Junction is available from Del Rey.