Gridlock ペーパーバック – 1992/1/1
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Gridlock is when a city dies. Killed in the name of freedom. Killed in the name of oil and steel. Choked on carbon monoxide and strangled with a pair of fuzzy dice. How did it come to this? How did the ultimate freedom machine end up paralyzing us all? How did we end up driving to our own funeral in somebody else's gravy train? Deborah and Geoffrey know, but they have transportation problems of their own. And anyway, whoever it was that murdered the city can just as easily murder them.
Ben Elton is nothing if not inventive, and some of the more ingenious contraptions we find here would have been worthy of Ian Fleming's Q. This is one of his earlier efforts, before he slowed down a little in later novels. He is still taking pops at every incidental target he can think of, still chasing every hare he starts, but never losing his main thread even when he is throwing out more ideas per square minute (as he used to do in his standup comedy routine) than practically any other novelist I can think of. There are various subsidiary themes and sub-plots, but of course this is a novel with a message if ever there was one, clever certainly but roughly as subtle as an Abrams tank in the way the message is put across. Insofar as the theme really is gridlock, Ben Elton used an analogy in one of his comedy acts that has stuck with me since I heard it. To try to cope with gridlock on the roads by building more and more roads, said he, is like solving the problem of an overflowing kitchen bin by buying a second bin. What does this `solution' leave us with? You got it in one - TWO overflowing kitchen bins. He must surely have been relieved, as we all were, when a pleasant young presenter of a TV programme dedicated to cars recently had a miraculous escape from a crash when testing some strange vehicle at something like 250 mph. The whole project involved design ingenuity, great expense and of course an enormous output of pollutant gases. If the fortunate young man had the opportunity in hospital to do some reading and to reflect on what possible purpose his deathmobile can conceivably have been intended for I hope some wellwisher brought him a copy of Gridlock.
Elton seems to be on my plain of thinking when he opens the book with a short story about the 'Brainian' aliens who study other planets as part of a TV show every week. They could understand every aspect of human activity except one "You're trying to tell me that they're all going in the same direction, travelling to much the same destinations yet deliberately impeding each others progress by occupying their own completely empty tin box?" Elton's Branian producer remarks in disbelief "you're drunk!"
Although Elton's political theme was one I'm personally interested in, I think this book suffers from a lack of strong characters and entertaining 'social' subplots; it is almost totally devoted to the world of politics and business. Elton's political rants are agreeable (if you swing toward the left) and are written to tickle the funny bone but I think he finds greater humour in the social scenario. This is why I believe the humor didn't match up to Elton's usual standard, it lacked his hilarious remarks on social do's and dont's.
If you're just starting on Ben Elton, I'd recommend his first novel 'Stark' which centres around environmental degradation. Stark was hilarious and keeps you guessing. Dead Famous is another good Elton novel investigating the sleazeball ethics behind exploiting people for reality TV.
Gridlock wasn't bad but if I don't think it's Elton's best effort. I do think he's a great political satirist.