Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Armageddon Rag by George R R Martin: book review

The Armageddon Rag by George R R Martin. Gollancz £18.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I first read this novel in the 1980s, soon after it was published. I remember enjoying it and writing a positive review (which I can’t locate right now). On re-reading the novel, I again found it enjoyable – almost equally but not quite – but for other reasons. Back then, this was a contemporary storyl. Now, thirty years on, it has a nostalgic feel to it.

The Nazgul were one of the biggest bands ever – as big as the Beatles or the Stones (according to the narrator). The band broke apart in the mid-70s after their singer was assassinated by a sniper’s bullet while playing at a huge outdoor arena. A few years later the band’s manager is found murdered with clues scattered around pointing to black magic and, perhaps, implicating the Nazgul.

The police investigation seems to go nowhere conclusive and Sandy, a reporter/writer for the underground press, is assigned to look into the events, to write an article on the band and the manager’s murder. Sandy embarks on a quest across America, seeking out the still-living band members and past-acquaintances and lovers. He uncovers more than he bargained for on this road trip...

I rather liked the way that Martin used his narrative to question the events of the 60s and 70s, the radicalism, the student politics. There are plenty of questions raised about that era; what was achieved, if anything; on how people were affected and adapted to the real world outside that radicalism.

My main criticism is that George Martin often goes into expository asides and remembrances, explaining what happened in the past, why people did the things they did. I found these a bit too intrusive and I think the book would’ve been much stronger without them, just using the bits really necessary to progress the story. Back in the 80s I didn’t mind so much but nowadays I feel that we don’t need these reminiscences. Don’t be put off by my comments. The Armageddon Rag is still a fine novel, written by Martin comparatively close to the start of his career, before mega-fame took off with the Game of Thrones series. Along with his short stories of that time (“Sandkings”, “Nightflyers”, “A Song for Lya”, etc), this reprint represents an important part in the author’s development.

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