When we peer into the future of the cities we live in, the only one thing we can know for certain is that there will be change. Melbourne has changed markedly since I moved here in 1995, and the mind boggles to think of the transformations that longer time periods will unleash on the complexion of our fair city. In fifty years, who knows what Melbourne will be like?
One person who has allowed his mind to boggle in the aforementioned fashion is Andrez Bergen, ex resident of Melbourne, current resident of Tokyo, and author of the noir homage novel Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat. Andrez offers us one imagined future for Melbourne, and it has to be said that things don’t look so good. The dystopian Melbourne of TSMG, pitched at some distance into the future, has the unique distinction of being the only city left in the world. Unfortunately, things are not going terribly well in terms of civil liberties, the political climate or the environment. In fact, things are comprehensively fucked up on all fronts, and the portrait painted is of an overcrowded, polluted metropolis groaning under the control of a government vested in corporate interests and busy herding non-conformists and misfits into extramural death camps styled as ‘hospitals’.
Despite this undeniable grimness, the novel is also pretty amusing, and it mines the noir vein with gay abandon, to use an old-fashioned phrase. Andrez wears his pop-culture influences on his sleeve, and the result is a compote that mashes up a plethora of fictional frameworks into a believable, seamelss whole. Readers who know Melbourne will enjoy seeing the geography of the city rezoned and remapped, polarised by the presence of a dome over the CBD that shelters the wealthy elite. And god help you if you find yourself in Richmond, which Bergen transforms into a demilitarised wasteland; Abbotsford and other inner suburbs don’t fare much better.
I for one appreciate someone taking the time to imagine an Australia of the future, as it is a welcome change to the ubiquitous North American setting of much popular fiction, and science fiction. Nevertheless, that wouldn’t be enough to recommend it. Happily, TSMG is also a ripping yarn in the best dystopian, gumshoe tradition.
Oh, and on a final note, you will thoroughly enjoy the company of the protagonist, Floyd Maquina - he is ruggedly handsome and generally ruined; witty, self destructive and self-effacing with his air of gracious defeat. He has a weary charm that is impossible to resist. If only he were real...