By Alan Bisbort
With a title like “Queens are Wild” and an author named Chaucer, readers might expect a bawdy novel filled to bursting with at least 25 shades of gray. Indeed, this “poli-sci-fi” novel delivers on the bawdiness but in totally unexpected ways that are in keeping with the dictates of the plot. And admit it. You’d be disappointed if a novel with a title like this didn’t have some nudity spiced with language that would be bleeped on “The Jerry Springer Show,” wouldn’t you?
However, Jack Chaucer — in contrast to Geoffrey Chaucer and his 14th century masterpiece “The Canterbury Tales” — has more than a friendly pilgrimage to a cathedral in mind for the brave new world he’s conjured in “Queens are Wild.” His pilgrims are, literally, unsuspecting pawns in a cosmic game of chess or poker (you find out which in the book’s chilling last pages).
The novel, which uses Vonnegut-like flash-backs and flash-forwards, ultimately takes readers on a pilgrimage through time and space to the year 2036, when a megalomaniacal media mogul from Australia named Robert “Balls” Ballentine (sound familiar?) declares himself king of the United States of America. This dude makes Donald Trump appear humble by comparison (he possesses a 202-foot yacht called “Sheworthy”).
With the help of his ally China — then the most powerful nation in the world — King Ballentine easily takes over the U.S. and declares its new name is the United Kingdom of America (UKA).
Prior to this chaos-inducing coup — during which President Margeaux Quigley is shot and taken hostage, and scores of government workers are assassinated by North Korean mercenaries dubbed the “Black Death” — we meet Margeaux as a precocious 17-year-old high school senior who has just won a full soccer scholarship to Stanford in 1984 (hmmm, that date seems to ring a dystopian bell). We also meet Robert Ballentine, who was born on Jan. 1, 1984 (hmmm again), as a third-grader in Melbourne, where he tells his teacher, “One day I will be king — king of the world.”
Out of the mouths of babes and straight to Chaucer’s ear. By 2036, Ballentine is dangerously close to realizing his regal dream. In Chaucer’s futurist world, the U.S. is paralyzed by national debt and jokingly called the “Divided States of America” by Ballentine. Social Security no longer exists (but CNN does!) and there is now an Area 52 in Nevada to house the spillover from extraterrestrial unidentified flying and/or crashing objects, one of which, named Gatherer 52, comes to the aid of President Quigley.
People possess things like “ST-Warp 5 mobile devices,” Dick Tracy-like “iWatches,” Clone Adapter Rockets (CARs) and web clouds instead of websites.
While this all might seem confusing, Chaucer is a sharp enough cookie to keep the action moving and the dialogue snappy, slipping his satire in on the sly. Particularly hilarious and painfully true to life are the scenes from Margeaux’s high school class, in which zit-covered losers in Motley Crue T-shirts vie for attention by tormenting a hapless Spanish teacher.
Blend in some plot devices that recall “The Matrix” and “The Manchurian Candidate,” plus a soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails (one of whose songs provides the inspiration for the book’s title), and you have a wildly entertaining page-turner.
You are not likely, for example, to read another novel that contains this line of dialogue: “Your swim cap will keep your brains from exploding.”
The e-book publisher smashwords.com makes it easy for potential readers to access and sample the text of this novel, providing both short and extended descriptions, and then allowing the first 20 percent of the text to be read before deciding whether to purchase.
In the case of “Queens are Wild,” readers are definitely going to want to punch the “purchase” button.
(Jack Chaucer is the pen name of Republican-American copy editor/page designer John Cullen.)