Gord Zajac – Major Karnage

Major Karnage cover“DON’T TALK TO HIM ABOUT THE WAR!!!”

As the discerning reader might observe from the opening line of this book’s blurb, quoted verbatim above, this is not a novel trading in subtle and elegant prose. No, Major Karnage is a shameless throwback to the days of pulp SF adventure.

Gord Zajac is a fiction editor for the Chiaroscuro webzine and writes for TV, including numerous cartoons for Cartoon Network. These two roles feed into Major Karnage in a very obvious way: the novel benefits from its author’s obvious versed familiarity with genre fiction and it is informed by a cartoonish sensibility. To whit: after a war to end all wars, the multinational Dabney corporation seizes global control of Earth and locks away all its war heroes. Fast forward a few years and the planet is a very different place, with odd flora and fauna spreading and a secret alien invasion underway.

The eponymous Major Karnage is incarcerated in a mental institution alongside a squad of soldiers with whom he shares an intense loyalty. Karnage is a soldier driven by rage and instinct and part of his rehabilitation involves a ‘sanity patch’ at the base of his neck. This device is rigged to explode if Karnage’s temperament escalates too far. This is something that happens a great deal after Karnage’s soldiers are alien-napped and he sets out to defeat the ‘squiggly’ menace from beyond the stars.

Zajac obviously revels in his thoroughly pulpish, tongue-in-cheek narrative and there’s a playful attitude throughout. Unfortunately, whilst humour is a major aspect of the novel, Major Karnage suffers from the problem of not being that funny. Mileage will always vary when it comes to jokes but the novel rarely drew out more than the wry smile of a shared joke. There are also weak long-running jokes, such as the colour-coded ‘sanity levels’ of Karnage’s patch: the penultimate level before his head is blown off being “Strawberry Shortcake”.

Structurally the novel is predictable, clinging to Karnage’s viewpoint with a few brief asides to see minor characters being written off. Whilst Karnage’s motives drive him forward convincingly, he spends a lot of time being knocked out or captured in order to get to where he needs to be. Although the book is pacey I found the first half significantly less interesting than the second, with too much time devoted to getting the plot moving and dropping a few guns on Chekov’s mantlepiece. And one last criticism should surely be pointed at the global dominance of the Dabney corporation: Disney doesn’t reflect the modern zeitgeist of controlling corporate greed any more, surely? We’re past the idea of an entertainment multinational controlling every aspect of our lives; nowadays it’s the internet giants lead by the mighty Google.

I found Major Karnage a moderately enjoyable read and as a first novel it’s a competent enough outing. Unfortunately it’s not a novel I would have persisted with were I not reviewing it. Had it proven funnier, more satirical or more gonzo then my conclusions might be different.

[This review originally published in Vector #265, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association. This version of the review was edited by Martin Lewis.]

2 Responses to “Gord Zajac – Major Karnage”
  1. Rachel says:

    Interesting review, but I have to disagree with the comment “We’re past the idea of an entertainment multinational controlling every aspect of our lives; nowadays it’s the internet giants lead by the mighty Google”.

    That statement ignores the existence of Comcast. While it is American, the entertainment monopoly owns everything from networks to cable, telephone and internet providers. In other words, many Americans can’t access Google without Comcast.

    However, “Disneyfication” is something that has been explored in literature over a long period of time, whereas “Comcastification” and “Googlification” have not. It’s also difficult to explore commodification without the presence of a figure like Mickey Mouse. Google does not have that aspect to its business model at the present time.

    I get that you don’t like the book, but a bit more research into the points made would have assisted in a more fleshed out and credible review.

  2. Shaun CG says:

    Hi Rachel, thanks for your comment and apologies for not replying sooner.

    My point with regard to Disneyfication in Major Karnage was essentially that the concept was incorporated directly into the novel in a very literal sense – the iconography is directly derived from Disney IP. However I would argue that this iconography was most prevalent in the mid to late 90s and early 00s and played a major role in public and artistic reactions to the globalisation of Western corporatism. Today, that iconography is considered somewhat played out, and although the fortunes of Disney have not significantly changed we look elsewhere for our corporate bogeymen.

    My comment re. Google was not to suggest that Google are our evil overlords, it was to suggest this idea that the institutions which act as emblems for the corporate puppetmasters who direct global culture and commerce have changed. I thought it indicated a lack of imagination not to reflect this, and lent the novel a dated air that jarred with its sfnal, pulpish attitude. I picked Google out of a hat because of recent incidents that conflict with their “Don’t be Evil” corporate motto, but given the last few years I could just as easily have written Goldman-Sachs or Apple thanks to their now ubiquitous branding and products (mostly produced in sweatshops akin to those pumping out merchandise for Disney).

    However, it’s clear that this point was not well-conveyed in my review, so thank you for your criticisms along such lines. I had a very strict wordcount to stick to but that is no excuse for failing to put an idea across to the reader.