Armageddon Rag

Thanks to HBO I guess there’s nearly nobody out there, who hasn’t heard the name George Raymond Richard Martin. Since eight year “Game of Thrones” is running on TV and made the author famous beyond the borders of the fantasy genre and the literature. But there was a time before “A Song of Ice and Fire”. There is the “Wild Cards” series since 1987 and four years before that Martin published the book that seemingly marks the beginning of a great carreer as an author: “Armageddon Rag”

The story starts with…

… a murder. With two murders, actually, though the first one happened some time ago. It was September, 20th 1971, that Pat Hobbins, lead singer of the rock band “Nazgûl”, was shot in the head on stage during a concert. It was the beginning of the end of the band.

On the same date ten years later the manager of the Nazgûl is murdered. He isn’t simply stabbed or shot or strangled. Somebody literally ripped his heart out of his breast. And this isn’t just the beginning of the story. It is the beginning of a new beginning for the Nazgûl.

Sandy Blair, novelist and ex editor in chief of the most important paper in the music scene, gets hired by his ex employer, to write about the second murder. What starts as a chance for Sandy to get his head free and away for a moment from page 37 of the book, Sandy tortures himself with writing, becomes finally a road trip into his own past, as a trip to old friends and some new messiah in the end. A Messiah who does not only ressurect the Nazgûl but even their dead lead singer. And what happens when the dead rise can be read in the Revelation of John.

A typical Martin

I admit, that until now I only read the “Song of Ice and Fire” and there is much more to read from that author. Still I think to have recognized Mr. Martin’s hand. As in his great work the story of “Armageddon Rag” jumps from one location to the next, too. The difference is that Martin doesn’t open as much side plots an side locations here. As much tension and complexity this lends to the “Song of Ice and Fire”, its lack, the focus on one main character makes it much easier to read “Armageddon Rag”.

The teller of the story take a similar road as in “A Song of Ice and Fire”, takes the reader into the protagonist’s world, clads him even in the firgure’s own body. Something Mr. Martin didn’t manage to do in his great cycle in the same way. But that’s easier if there is only one main character. Sander Blair is clearly the hero of the story. In “A Song of Ice and Fire” the borders between good and bad are blurring. And still this is not all. “Armageddon Rag” is much more focussed on the character himself, leads the reader much more into the world of the feelings and the past of the figure.

Mr. Martin here uses some magnificient trick. He doesn’t tell the past in mere flashbacks but brings the past to the present, lets all the things happen again in dreams and visions. At least as far as Sandy Blair himself is concerned and Mr. Blair has a lot to solve. The story is a trip of the hero to himself. A road trip through the yesterday, passing old friends and the old music and traumatic events full of violence. And nothing of all this helps the story. Then again it all does for while the story reaches for its climax and its Armageddon, the past catches up with the reader and the hero, making him finally do what he has to do. The end of the world has to be prevented!

Still the story has its flaws and weaknesses. Minor weaknesses only but these make “Armageddon Rag” a typical Martin, too.

The author masters in a fantastic way to build up a villain. The bad guy comes relativly late in the story, at the beginning only a name is dropped. But after that new messiah entered the live of Sander Blair he rules the story in a masterful and demonic way. Even though the plot twist to be expected was foreseeable. Not only that the twist must come but also the way the story would turn around at 180 degree. Only the main character had the surprise, not the reader. And even Sandy Blair somehow knew it. I simply guessed it a bit earlier than he. Maybe it is the distance of the reader to the story that lets him see the things in a more rational way. Maybe it is simply that such stories always follow the same pattern. Such twists are a fashion latest since the 1990s.

The second weakness is the trip around the country that doesn’t help the story at the first sight. Sandy investigates in the case of the murdered manager and on his way visites one old friend after the next one. At the end those friends reappear in a somehow esotheric way and the purpose of the journey is revealed. But at this moment around 2/3 of the story are over and the actual climax is put into a to little place, seems to take a shortcut. A ratio of 50/50 would have done somehing good to the story. One half road trip, one half to form the climax, to compose a slowly rising crescendo.

Two small flaws in a great book. Two little flaw that don’t prevent me from a recommendation.

The difficult thing is…

…to categorize the story. Maybe one should not think to much about genres, for if one does even “Armageddon Rag” can’t be simply put into a genre.

There is Blair’s journey to himself. Old friends have changes but even though the past revives for a moment. So even Sandy should know that these moments are just memories. The past is gone. In front of this background one could call it a drama, that reaches its climax when Sandy meets his old friend Slum who is called non compos mentis.

On the other side there is something like magic. So is it fantasy? Urban fantasy, perhaps? Maybe. Maybe the last third of the story. The again maybe it is more horror. The vividly described doom of the world’s end leaves a modest shudder in my spine.

Looking back there seem to be only to ways to categorize “Armageddon Rag”: either as a “horror-urban-fantasy-drama” or simply as what it is – a book.

Yes, I think “book” is the best category. It is definetly a book. The are just middle-class categories of bourgeois small minds who have to categorize everyone and everything and cannot enjoy the simple and senseless fun of reading. “Armageddon Rag” is more than one genre. Though the story is superficial and simple at the first look, it contains deep thoughts about the past, has personality and an enjoyable suspense.

And exactly this only difficultly definable mix makes “Armageddon Rag” a recommendation not only to fans but to everyone who loves reading. And who loves music.

Story:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Style:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Reading Fun:4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)
Average:4.2 out of 5 stars (4.2 / 5)

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