Book - Random Acts Of Senseless Violence

Romeo Kennedy discovers that science fiction has a vicious streak as he reads Random Acts Of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack...

So lately, I have been trying to read a little more SciFi than Fantasy, for balance mostly, and to also keep things interesting.

Random Acts Of Senseless Violence has been on my shelf for a while and I was in one of those moods when I had just finished a book but wanted something to sink my teeth into right away. Problem was I didn’t know what. This usually ends up with me sorting through books, looking at them and seeing if they take my fancy.

That’s when I spied it on the shelf.

I have the Gollancz SF masterworks edition and I started to read the introduction by none other than William Gibson, who cites Jack Womack as one of his favourite authors. I was already willing to give this book a go and then I read the first words on the opening chapter.

“Mama says mine is a night mind.”

Those six words sent chills down my spine. I was going to read the hell out of this book.

Here is the synopsis

Ten minutes in the future, Lola Hart is writing her life in a diary. She’s a nice middle-class girl at the calm end of town.

But in a disintegrating New York she is a dying breed. War is breaking out.

On Long Island, gangs fight in the streets, five Presidents have been assassinated in a year.

No one notices any more. Soon Lola and her family must move to the Lower East side and the new language of violence of the streets.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence is part of Womack’s Dryco series and although four books in the series came before it RAoSV is the first chronologically. The book was released in 1993 but it feels like the events are happening nowadays. In fact it echoes world events of recent past, present and the future.

I described the book to my wife as, ‘It’s a book for the Brexit/Trump age.’ And that made me feel a little bit queasy because at times that is true, and reading it almost made me feel like I was looking into a window of a frightening future.

Lola starts out like any other twelve year old and as she records the daily events of her life. The entries at the start of the novel are fairly typical of what we would perceive to be the life of a normal middle-class twelve year old but Womack adds these moments where everything seems normal but a dangerous more violent world is rising through the cracks and pervading everyday life.

It has quite a shocking impact. There is a moment when Lola is gaming around with her friends, Lori, and Katherine in the park then the smell of burning as a homeless man is set on fire.

As shocking as that is, it’s the absence of reaction that stays with you. Yes, the police and ambulance are called and one of Lola’s friends feels ill. But it’s the reaction of the rollerblader who tells them a homeless man was set on fire. That simple exchange, yet so matter of fact. This rollerblader might as well be saying, ‘Lovely day.’

Pick any dystopian SF and you will see slight similarities in your reality. How many times has someone invoked Orwell in the last year or so? We’ve all had “that guy” in our Twitter mentions, right?

But with RAoSV you can see direct parallels to our reality as it stands. Now that might seem really obvious or just mere coincidence.

But, whilst writing this, I check Twitter and a horrific news article pops up about a Muslim woman being set on fire in the U.S.

Throughout this book that violence is always there, as is the apathy to it, but as things get decidedly worse Lola begins to change.

And my goodness, Womack does it in such a subtle way that it’s quite hard to pinpoint when exactly this normal twelve year old girl becomes something quite different.

It is done beautifully though, Womack sets Lola up from the beginning as someone at any given time we may have known, whether it be through our long lost school days, or even the child of friend of relative. The reader thinks they know Lola but then Womack shows that you really don’t, especially as the story progresses.

Lola’s change of character can also be seen not only in reactions and actions to things but also in language. Womack use of street lingo is done in a way that again is subtle and marks the change in Lola’s character. It works beautifully too and it is not done in a jarring way. Lola’s use of street lingo becomes Lola and it is a comfortable fit. When you finish the book take a look at how her use of language changes, the way she speaks to her mum for instance.

Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a slow burning novel and that is no way a bad thing as the journal style adds a lovely medium pace to it. It’s a hard book to read in the matter of overall content and, although I enjoyed it very much, it hit hard in a few places which is not necessarily a bad thing either. It’s a very thought provoking novel and there is lots to be drawn on from it.

I won’t spoil it but remember what I said about the first line of the book?

Well, the last paragraph will hit you like a tonne of bricks. Never before have I read a book whose first line and last paragraph give me serious chills.

Image - Amazon