Thunder’s Mouth, 2005, 225 pages, US$14.95 tpb, ISBN 1-56025-684-2
Seen from afar, Steve Aylett’s Lint is a wonderful concept: A mock biography of wholly fictional Science Fiction writer Jeff Lint, from his beginning in the pulp era to his death in the mid-nineties. The potential for satire in mock biographies is rich (Robert James Bakker’s Boy Wonder is a fabulous example of the form, as it takes on Hollywood through the form of a mock oral history), and SF is what’s known as a target-rich environment.
Seen from up close, in randomly-selected sentences, Steve Aylett’s Lint is a small laugh-a-minute masterpiece. Small quotable gems such as “When the abyss gazes into you, bill it” or “On July 13, 1994, Lint had a near-death experience, followed immediately by death.” can be found here and there in the text.
But it’s somewhere between the concept and the epigrams that Lint fails to reach complete success. Rather than cohere, Lint runs from one gag to another without building up to something bigger. It never quite works as a biography, even a mock one. Those foolishly hoping for a sustained satire of the SF scene are going to be disappointed. Part of the problem lies into Aylett’s own style… but let’s rewind and take another look at the book as a whole.
Yes, “Jeff Lint” is more than a bit inspired by Philip K. Dick, especially in his progression from schlocko pulp writer to literary darling. More pointed jokes such as a reference to an “episode” in the seventies further fuel the resemblances. But don’t go into Lint hoping to find a roman-à-clé about Dick, because Lint is really just an excuse for Aylett to riff on post-WW2 American pop culture. Leaving SF behind, Lint features lengthy passages such as a digression about a truly “Magical Bullet” that manages to hit political assassination targets over a century-long period, a bit of Lint as gonzo journalist without any of Hunter S. Thompson’s talent, a discussion of progressive rock music and so on.
The good thing is that Aylett gets his references right. SF fans with good memories are going to chuckle over such things as John W. Campbell being misheard saying “Poppet, for a male you know how to dress.”, Lint getting his big break by submitting stories as “Isaac Asimov”, or the various pulp magazine titles imagined by Aylett: Awkward and Inconvenient Stories, Baffling Stories, Meandering Tales, etc. More in-jokes follow as Aylett/Lint takes on the world of TV animation, Comic Books, Star Trek, alternative music and Hollywood.
But it seldom amounts to more than a series of punchlines and weird word chains. Aylett’s usual comic style, it seems, is to join words that don’t necessarily go together, in the hope that the collision will somehow result in something funny. That’s not always true: Read over more than a few pages at a time, Lint quickly loses its interest. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Mark Leyner’s first two books, before Leyner disciplined himself, wrote more sustained pieces and produced his best work to date.
As an imagined biography, Lint remains a disappointment: The narrative is written with eccentric turn of phrases that aren’t that far removed from Lint’s quotations, and when this uniformity of style carries over to every other quotation, there is little room for featured lunacy. Conventional humour benefits greatly from reaction moments, and if everyone in the narrative is just as crazy as Lint, how do you highlight Lint’s distinctiveness?
It’s probably unfair to criticize Aylett for what he (judging from his other work) has no intention of doing: Sustained satire probably wasn’t anywhere near the top of this book’s objective, nor was anything like sitcom comedy. Perhaps it’s best to simply enjoy the punchlines (a few pages at a time) and stop worrying about how it could have been a far more enjoyable book. If all else fails, blame yourself and take a break from reading.
At least the book is decently packaged: In addition to the text itself, Lint comes complete with a number of illustrations, fake book covers, a collection of Lint quotations (they’ll save you the trouble of browsing through the whole book to quote the good bits) and some framing material —including an amusing fake bibliography. Surprisingly enough, a serviceable index is included, though it too has its share of fake and funny stuff.
Though Lint certainly isn’t for all tastes, it really works when it does work. The dense prose, careful vocabulary and humour-through-confusion takes a lot of energy, but the result is often worth it. If nothing else, read Chapter 10, “Catty and the Major”, for a representative dose of Lint. Those who already know about Aylett’s hyperactive non-sequitur style can rejoice in the thought that he’s been able to sustain it for more than 200 pages. Everyone else can hop in for the ride and see how it goes.