SHE COMES FROM A LAND DOWN UNDER
(Parrish Plessis Trilogy, Book 1)
Marianne De Pierres
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Paperback, 336 Pages
Date: 15th January 2004
It’s not easy being the kick-ass bodyguard to a leading figure of the criminal underworld. For Parrish Plessis it’s harder still, knowing that she’s little more than a paid slave and unwilling sexual plaything, to boot. No wonder she wants out. But it’s easier said than done. Killing her notorious boss would mean spending the rest of her short life looking over her shoulder, waiting for his genetically modified minions to avenge their master’s death. So what will Parrish do when another means to escape the clutches of her criminal employer unexpectedly presents itself? Grab it with both hands, of course.
At its core, Nylon Angel is a cyberpunk thriller (at least it starts out that way) set in a near future, dystopian Australia—a setting which will instantly conjure images of the Mad Max films. But such a comparison is far removed from the world conceived by author, Marianne De Pierres, which is more akin to the high-tech urban sprawl depicted in the film, Blade Runner. However, unusually for a cyberpunk novel, Nylon Angel’s setting is not ruled by a capricious, amoral mega-corporation, nor even a militaristic totalitarian regime. Instead, the major power broker in society is an all-pervasive and powerful media. Not content with just reporting the news, these media organisations have taken to orchestrating, shaping and controlling the people’s everyday reality—it’s good for ratings.
This setup could easily have been used for some social commentary and exploration of the influence that the media has over certain sections of society today, but disappointingly this is not the direction the author chose to take. It’s hard not to view this omission as a missed opportunity, although it’s apparent right from the start that De Pierres was not seeking to tell a thought-provoking story, but rather an action oriented adventure.
It’s against this backdrop of a media dominated dystopia that Nylon Angel introduces protagonist, Parrish Plessis, a giant of a woman―good with her feet and fists―who has spent three years eking out a living as a bodyguard in the Tert, a sprawling network of ramshackle villas and slums built upon the toxic wasteland outside the city limits of Vivacity. Through a first-person narrative, it is established immediately that she finds herself trapped in her current job, with no easy way out. Working for the infamous underworld figure, Jamon Mondo, is a job for life, because the only way to leave his employ is to die, which Parrish would like to avoid.
The story begins on the day that opportunity knocks for Parrish, not once but twice. First, a celebrated news anchorwoman is murdered in a professional hit―which is a major incident given that no one fucks with the media and lives long enough to regret it. The murder suspect potentially holds the key to one means of escaping Jamon’s employ without fear of retaliation. A second opportunity presents itself when a rival crime-lord seeks to buy her services to carry out an assignment that will land her boss on death row.
If Nylon Angel had followed its initial simple premise―Parrish Plessis pursuing the opportunities to free herself from Jamon Mondo’s employ―it could have made for an engaging and memorable novel. Unfortunately, the author decided to unnecessarily overcomplicate matters, going off on wild tangents in the process. While intricately woven plots with lots of unexpected twists and turns can be great, that’s with the proviso they are executed well. Sadly, this is not the case with Nylon Angel. About halfway through the story, the narrative starts to stray radically from its initial premise, until it quickly descends into an incoherent mish-mash of genetically and cybernetically modified freaks; religious devotion; urban gang-warfare; illegal medical experimentation; supernatural visions; feral street children; a bodyguard turned messianic saviour; warmongering parasitic lifeforms; and a shape-shifting criminal “mastermind”.
Nylon Angel’s inconsistent narrative is not its only weakness. World building is an important element of any speculative fiction, and when done well a book’s setting can by like a character in its own right, but Nylon Angel falls down in this area also. It’s not so much that Nylon Angel is lacking in respect of its world building, it’s more the case that Marianne De Pierres’ prose just isn’t strong enough to bring the dystopian setting to life. Subsequently, at no point in the book does it truly feel like events are unfolding in a post-apocalyptic future.
Sometimes a strong ensemble of compelling characters can make up for flaws in a book’s narrative, but Nylon Angel doesn’t have any; even protagonist, Parrish Plessis, fails to impress. And even taking into account that the book was published at a time when “kick-ass” heroines in science fiction and fantasy were not as prevalent as today, Parrish is rather unremarkable to say the least. She is easily played and manipulated throughout the story, and it’s doubtful whether she would anticipate the duplicity and double-crossing of the bad guys, even if they had “I am not to be trusted” tattooed on their foreheads.
To conclude, it would be easy to dismiss Nylon Angel as a book to be avoided given that it had the potential to be so much better than it is, but the truth remains that despite its shortcomings is still an entertaining read; just not one that will live long in the memory. Fortunately, it’s a short book that can be read in a day, so no one should feel like they’ve sacrificed too much time on it. However, anyone wanting to read a cyberpunk tale done right would be better served getting themselves a copy of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon.