Thierry Di Rollo, La Lumière des Morts. 2000. Folio SF. Pp. 256. ISBN 2070428567. €5.30 (France).

Reviewed by Djibril

Di Rollo is sometimes touted as the most modern of SF authors writing in French today, and this novel is certainly dark, fast-paced and unsettling. The futuristic speculation is all social, rather than technological, and it is not a pretty world that he imagines.

There is an short, intriguing introductory prologue with promises of gunfights, chases and street punks, but then the book is crudely divided into two stories with little apparent connection between them. The first half is tasteless in the extreme, and a reader could be forgiven for getting no further than page 36. Four men staff an ailing wildlife reserve in sub-saharan Africa called BostWen (Di Rollo has a penchant for mixed-case names—the book also contains a city called LinkVille and a chef by name of LongLane). The narrator, Dunkey, is a fugitive from Europe who used to kill cats as a passtime and run a black market trade in accident victims' body parts for a living; Kool is the sadistic radio operator; Lhar the drunken marksman who gets through a dozen bottles of whiskey every day; finally 'Bongo' is a stinking, unwashed, superstitious, cowardly African with a special affinity for nature. (I do not exaggerate the stereotypes, they are as I found them.) In addition they are visited by a patronising vetinary inspector, and a young African whore (dubbed "Guinness" because of a t-shirt she wears), whom the three white men share.

The wildlife reserve is dying, rich hunters are allowed to poach with impunity, and the gene pools are already too small for populations to breed successfully. The team kill a lion while trying to give it a genetic health check, and the corpse mysteriously disappears. Bongo becomes more and more afraid of the forest, and a murderous, fluorescent blue rhinoceros is running rampage through BostWen. Is the reserve somehow taking vengeance for man's murder of Africa's wildness?

In the second part of the book, the action suddenly switches to a futuristic European city, dystopic and brutally ghettoised. The new protagonist, by name of Live Linder, is a "shooter" (not, as she stresses repeatedly, "shooteuse"), a government sponsored assassin who hears the voice of God. Shooters have impunity when conducting a mission, and it is a tragic irony of the story that Linder's own stark background includes having lost her small child to a shooter's stray bullet. She herself leaves more than one innocent bystander cooling in the gutter. Diverted from a run-of-the-mill elimination to investigate a chain of serial killings that are spiralling uncomfortably close to the "zone franche", the safe quarter of the city where the rich and free live, as opposed to the lawless and ungoverned poor ghettoes that no one cares much about, she is partnered with the abusive Chell. Linder soon learns more than she expected, and tires of both her work and the insistent voice of God. And then there is the fluorescent blue light that spills from her nightmares...

Several themes recur in this novel. Dismemberment is one, linking the poaching in the wildlife reserve, Dunkey's former profession as a dealer in human body parts, the cannibalism of the ship on which he sailed to Africa, and the serial killer in the second half. Savagery is the other, the brutality of individuals and institutions alike symbolic of the way both the natural and social worlds have been abused and mutilated for profit and political gain. It has to be said that the European characters are every bit as savage and distasteful as the Africans, but I do not feel that this makes the distasteful representation of the latter any less offensive.

I did not terribly enjoy this book, but it is hard to think of the last time I came across a more disturbing, dystopic world than Di Rollo's future.

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