A boy, Heber, has a bomb in his mind. Taffy Atom takes the boy through Beerlight City as he tries to keep him away from the cops, mobs and mercenaries who wish to do him harm should they catch him. His attempts to keep the boy out of harm’s way take him, and us, to a variety of locations and allow us to meet a surprisingly large (given the short length of the novel) number of characters that inhabit Beerlight City and make it the sort of place you wish you could visit yourself.
The action starts from the very first page when an assassin, a galoot, tries to end Atom's life and from there things only get better. Atom makes a brief stop at the Delayed Reaction Bar where we get to meet Don Toto, by far my favourite character in Novahead. The dialogue between Atom and Toto is the funniest I’ve seen between any two characters of any fictional media, let alone a novel. They have a love-hate relationship; no clearer is this impression conveyed than when Atom tells Toto that he “fills a bastard shaped hole” in his life.
Atom meets far more characters on his journey, all as well characterised as Toto, that I could focus solely on those. However to do so would be to ignore all the other aspects of Novahead that make it such an incredibly good read. By far the greatest thing about this book is the way in which Aylett plays with words and ideas, often in a comically dark and pessimistic manner. He uses contrasting words and ideas so that something as boring and ordinary as water becomes the “violent staleness of burnt water”. Such a sentence seems illogical, and may make the reader feel uncomfortable, as though they’re reading something that simply doesn’t make sense. But that’s precisely the point. Beerlight City doesn’t always make sense and the characters don’t always do or say what you’d expect, yet it all makes perfect sense in the context of Atom’s world. This aspect of Aylett’s writing is one that I feel can make or break the novel for someone reading one of his works for the first time. It’s such a unique approach to storytelling that I feel it may not be everyone’s cup of tea and I would understand if the reason I love Novahead turns out to be the very reason some people may dislike it.
I’d be remiss if I ended without saying a little about the humour of Novahead. Like the writing style, the humour is heavily embedded in the wacky and the absurd. Aylett makes great use of the non sequitor, with Atom frequently doing, thinking or saying something totally removed from the situation he’s in. So successful is Aylett at blending comedy with narrative that you’ll find yourself pausing frequently until you can stop laughing.
I would urge anyone with a taste for the bizarre or who has a love for dystopian fiction to check it out. Or if you want something new and different to read you can’t go far wrong with Novahead. I haven’t even mentioned the Mad Max style highway chase or exactly what the trigger is for the bomb in the boy’s head. I guess you’ll just have to find out for yourself.
Novahead is available now at Amazon.co.uk