A Review of Ambient

AmbientAmbient by Jack Womack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! Ambient is a 1987 (publication date) update of A Clockwork Orange with some additional ultraviolence and a new language thrown in. The author even pays tribute to A Clockwork Orange early in the book.

In this book, we follow O’Malley, a bodyguard for a dysfunctional CEO of a major company in a 21st century dystopian New York City. Avalon is Mister Dryden, his boss’s, mistress/concubine. She’s very young and very hot and has a thing for wigs. And O’Malley is in love with her.

O’Malley has another side to him. His sister is an “ambient,” or a genetically modified mutant living amongst each other who have their own language-within-a-language and who tend to be pretty violent. But hey, everyone in this book is violent. Rapes, muggings, murders, etc., are commonly seen and passed on by. O’Malley lives with Enid, his sister, in a run down nightmare of a place where no sane non-ambient would go. He’s accepted there because of her. Oh, and in addition to naturally occurring mutants, there are those who wish to join them and become ambients. Enid is one of these. She’s 6’3″ tall and has spikes sticking out of her head, pointed sides out. She’s also had her breasts cut off. She has a girlfriend who’s a psychopathic midget. Normal, right?

The army is fighting another army on Long Island and boys are being chewed up left and right. It’s your duty to serve, unless you can get a sweet gig like O’Malley has. The army boys are always shooting at people, into crowds, on buses and trains, raping girls in the streets — they’re insane.

Meanwhile, Mister Dryden’s father, who worships Elvis, owns the corporation and seems to be wanting to re-take control of what he’s given his son. He views his son as unstable. His son views him as unstable. Something’s got to give, right? Well, Mister Dryden convinces O’Malley to put a bomb under his father’s desk next time they’re visiting his estate, so he does. And he and Avalon finally hook up. Mister Dryden tells O’Malley he’ll have to get out of the country for awhile until the coast is clear, so he makes plans to do so. He and Avalon decide to go together, so after the bomb is set, they take off. And encounter some problems. People are out to get them. But why? Turns out Avalon knew about the plan, knew where the bomb was and went into the office and changed the time for it to go off when both Mister Dryden AND his father would be in there. However, they don’t know if it went off, or if it did, if the men were in there. So, they don’t know if there’s a manhunt on for them or not. And apparently there is.

O’Malley takes Avalon to his place in the Ambient part of town to hide out. The next morning, there’s a car outside, waiting. So they take off. And a chase ensues. They wind up down in the subway tunnels and come across a religious service the ambients are having, who do not like being interrupted. Just as they’re about to be killed, Enid intervenes and saves their hides. She and her girlfriend then take them through the sewers to a safe house. Tired, they fall asleep. When O’Malley wakes, he finds Avalon gone with a left for him note saying, “You’re next.” He’s both frightened and livid. He figures Mister Dryden has done it, so he goes after him. Then he goes after his father. He’s introduced to Alice, a monster computer that knows just about everything and is reunited with Avalon, who appears to have betrayed him to Mister Dryden’s father. He can’t believe it. And then … what? Do you actually think I’m going to tell you the ending? No way! It’s a great book and you’ll have to get it and read it and find out for yourself what happens. Apparently, this book is part of a series, perhaps the first one. If so, I want the others. It’s kind of cyberpunk, but not really. It’s kind of sci fi, but more just dystopian, so if you want to classify that as sci fi, have at it. It was a hard book to read because of all of the violence, and I’ve seen and read more than my fair share. At some times, it felt like a nightmare. I was honestly glad when it was over and I had finished. But I loved it. It was really original and really awesome. The characters were great, the plot was great, the dialogue was insane. Good stuff. Five stars. Strongly recommended, if you can stomach it.

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