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WesternSFA


Kill All Angels
by Robert Brockway
Tor, $29.99, 320pp
Published: December 2017

After two thoroughly enjoyable but oddly insubstantial books, Robert Brockway wraps up the trilogy he's now calling 'The Vicious Circuit' with the smoothest and most substantial of the three.

The previous two books were 'The Unnoticeables' (click here for review)and 'The Empty Ones' (click here for review), both of which explored a weird sci-fi idea, that creatures exist whose purpose is to 'solve' human beings in both a mathematical and a physical sense. We're like complex equations that can be solved down to nothing, at which point we vanish. Only those whose equations are insolvable get to remain, but in an odd form, like the empty ones or unnoticeables from the titles of those previous books.

While this is a fascinating idea, those two books worked best from the perspective of Carey, a New York punk who was obviously an avatar, whether fictional or non-fictional, of the author. Certainly he's very knowledgeable about that scene and his neatly sarcastic prose effortlessly brings it to life for Carey to rampage through. He's a broken character, who cares about drink, sex and fights, with music a solid backdrop to all these, but he has the strength to fight back when the creatures mentioned above come for his friends. That becomes his purpose in life, as he fights them on both coasts in book one and across the pond in book two.

Other characters didn't wear as well, especially Kaitlyn who's, oddly enough, the real focal point of the trilogy. This really isn't about Carey, for all that he's the most prominent, best drawn and most substantial character. He may be one of the best crafted supporting characters I've read in a long while (he reminds me in some ways of the Toshiro Mifune character in 'Seven Samurai', in that he's a vibrant fraud who thinks he's nothing but discovers that he's actually what he's been pretending to be all along), but his dominance comes at the expense of the real lead, who finds her destiny here but still has trouble taking the spotlight.

Easily the smoothest and most coherent read of the three volumes, Brockway provides the best explanation he's found for the trilogy on the second page and builds from there; even from those early pages, it felt like a step up from the previous books. Kaitlyn goes on a weird trip outside Quartzsite, AZ, which is as good a place for such a thing as anywhere. Carey and his friend Randall get into a surreal battle with some Empty Ones at a Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA in 1981. Bumper cars as weapons? Rollerpunting? Oh yeah, Brockway knows how to write this stuff and I revelled in it.

It was the bigger picture that he had more trouble with in the earlier books, but he introduces a character here to help with that. His name is Zang and he's an Empty One with a conscience, a rather bizarre concept but one that really helps us to focus on the plot rather than whatever trouble Carey happens to be getting into this chapter. It also helps Carey focus on the big picture too and some of the best chapters here involve his verbal sparring with Zang to help each get to the point. Zang may play on the surface like an engaging psychopath but there are deep reasons for that and, frankly, the single reason why this is the best book in the trilogy is because Brockway gets that and gets it across to us too. Those reasons resonate and finally provide bedrock for the core plot as it heads towards its finalé.

Now I know how this wraps up and what each character's place in the story is, I'm tempted to go back and read the trilogy straight through and see how it stands up. Right now, it feels like the first two books work better for the existence of the third, but how much of that is Brockway focusing this time out and how much it's the first two showing the way to this one I really don't know. Maybe in a year or two when I've forgotten the details, I'll re-read and see how they flow. They're easy enough reads that it wouldn't take long to blitz through all three.

I certainly feel that Brockway, who was able to wield language like a varied arsenal all along, was figuring out the special ins and outs of novel writing with this trilogy and finally got there with this one. This time, we shift for the most part between Carey in 1982 and Kaitlyn, Jackie and Carey in 2013 and that makes sense as every trip to the past explains, bolsters or highlights something in the present. Even the odd other flashbacks, to 1871 or ancient frickin' Sumeria, make sense. Everything makes sense and that's refreshing for this trilogy, given that I've been puzzling about it since I began book one.

Of course, I'm still puzzling. Now I know how all the pieces fit together, is the final picture, the ending that we spent three books heading towards, the right one? I have to say that I think so, even though I puzzled about that too. Is it a good ending? Is it a bad ending? Is it an appropriate ending? I really couldn't answer any of those questions, even while I was reading the last chapters, but when I finally closed the book, I was happy with it.

I liked this trilogy even when I found it insubstantial and problematic. I liked this book much more than its two predecessors and believe it's what the series needed. It's easily the best of the three but it may also be the only one that you need. When I go back and re-read, one thing I'm going to look at is whether this volume stands on its own well enough for the first two to be seen more as unneeded prequels to this book than as the first two volumes in a trilogy. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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