Gollancz, 2004, 300 pages, £6.99 hc, ISBN 0-575-07568-6
I would like to write that after reading Adam Roberts’ Stone, I was so blown away that I bought everything he wrote and then tracked down everything he’s done under pseudonym and ended up with The McAtrix Derided in my hands. It would be a good story.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be true. While I was impressed by Stone enough to buy the rest of Roberts’ SF novels, the truth is that I would have bought this Matrix prose parody regardless of the author. To know that Roberts was the not-so-pseudonymous author of it only made it more amusing to me.
Now, I’m told that parody is a hot genre in the UK right now. Driven by such titles as Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody and The Soddit (another Adam Roberts product, as “ARRR Roberts”), the category has known a brief white-hot flash of popularity in 2004, and The McAtrix Derided rides squarely on the crest of that particular wave. I’ll leave it to other scholars to discuss the pop-cultural implications of such a parasitic phenomenon, but the bottom line for me is this: I’m such a whorishly undiscerning fan of THE MATRIX trilogy (despite my progressive disenchantment with the latter volumes) that any parody is all right with me.
Certainly, The McAtrix Derided has the decency to use the usual tools of parodies: The thinly-disguised puns on characters’ names (here, “Nemo”, “Thinity”, “Smurpheus”, “The Frurnchman” and so on), the roughly-parallel plot structure, the silly alternate explanations, the gentle jabs at the source material’s plot holes and the affectionate take-down of the pop phenomenon surrounding the original work. It’s all quite amusing, especially if you’re ready to be amused. After all, parodies are usually as good as the amount of slack you’re willing to cut them.
The good news are that I was indeed quite amused by the whole book. It starts before even cracking open the covers of the book: As -I gather- is the case with other parodies, The McAtrix Derided comes in a tiny 6"x5"x1” hardcover scarcely bigger than my hand: if any book format can be called “cute”, this is it. Beyond the twin functions of cutting down on costs while making the thin narrative seem longer than it actually is (most pages contain less than 250 words!), it’s a format that, like most needlessly tiny objects, asks you to smile before you even start reading.
Given that this is a parody, a summary of the story is probably irrelevant. Suffice to say that as Gordon Everyman (Database Coordinator) discovers the hidden truth about his world, readers are asked to follow along the usual slight gags and silly comedy of an extended MAD-magazine satire. Particular highlight include “Gents” antagonists (as in “Oh no, a gent!”), a mad dancing sequence, perpetual befuddlement from Gordon/Nemo (which allows Roberts to poke holes into THE MATRIX’s most dubious assumptions) and a series of bonus pages treating the book as a DVD release (along with Author’s Commentary, Deleted Scenes, promotional offers, previews of other “Victor Gollum” videos and promotional trailers that had me laughing like an idiot.)
But the real treat comes late in the narrative: While most of the book is a parody of the first MATRIX film, the latter half touches upon the second film and then leaves the whole original trilogy behind for the conclusion. It’s not for nothing that the third part of the book is titled “The McAtrix Derrida’d”: It’s a clever conclusion that tones down the comedy and works both as a conclusion to the book and an alternate explanation for the original movie trilogy. Most interesting, and I say this despite the deliberately ambiguous conclusion. MATRIX fans will find here a reason to track down the book independent of the appeal of a parody.
The best part of The McAtrix Derided (why couldn’t they call it The Mactrix Derided?) is that it’s a product by a real SF author, and not simply a literary hack chosen at random: Roberts knows his science, likes THE MATRIX, understands the appeal of a good story and never lets his natural decency as a human being stop him from cramming another lame pun in the story. You have to respect that kind of commitment.