Flux by Jinwoo Chong from @melvillehouse #BookReview #SciFi #Noir
Flux by Jinwoo Chong
Menville House, ebook, £7.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
When Brandon loses his job just before Christmas, he doesn’t expect to walk into another one straight away. But he meets Lev, who offers him a job in an innovative start-up, creating batteries that last forever. Brandon accepts the job and is immediately thrown into a confusing maelstrom of meetings and parties, but he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing or how long he has been there. He feels like it has only been a week, but his co-workers think it has been longer, and whenever he asks his boss what his job is, Brandon is just told he’s doing really well. The more Brandon tries to make sense of his world, the less it does. And he is filled with regrets about his family and the people he walked away from on the way. The only thing that seems to make sense is a show Brandon watched as a child about a detective working in Little China. But Brandon can’t hide in an 80’s detective show no matter how disconnected he feels from real life. At some point, he has to face the consequences of the decisions he’s made.
Flux is a story told through three distinct points of view of differing closeness to the reader. The main voice is Brandon in the first person, who often talks to the detective from his favourite childhood programme as if they are really there. Brandon makes sense of the world and his experiences through the detective and how he handled things in his show. Brandon’s cultural heritage, half-Korean on his mother’s side, is regularly referenced as he has cut himself off from it, an act that feels more like self-punishment. Blue and Bo have less page time but are just as crucial, both using the third person, making them distinct from Brandon’s timeline. Bo is a young child whose mother has died and is dealing with grief and guilt. Blue is an older man without friends or family, looking back at a life of regrets and mistakes. Each is a compelling story, full of tragedy and heartbreak, and their strong voices make the book impossible to put down.
Brandon’s story is complex with unique pacing as Brandon experiences events differently from the people around him. From his point of view, Brandon has only been in his new job for a week or so, but to his co-workers, it’s been months. His passages jump around, too; one minute, he meets Io Emsworth, the head of the organisation he works for, and the next, he prepares to meet her. Each section starts the same way, with him waking able to see his phone just under his pillow, getting ready, talking to his building’s receptionist and being driven to work, where he eats cereal. It is disorientating for Brandon as well as the reader. I appreciated the work and skill that had gone into creating this atmosphere.
This is a futuristic science fiction story grounded with constant references to an old detective noir series. The level of detail about this series and the cast’s lives after the show really brought it to life, so you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a real show. A dark tone runs throughout the book, the effect of art on real life, as Brandon tries to live his life like his favourite character. There is so much more I could say about the relationship between the story and this fictional TV show but not without giving away too much of the story, so I will encourage you to buy a copy and discover them for yourself.
I found the book very current with its themes. The news is full of companies that promise the next innovative tech that never delivers or is full of scandal. And the people who are the most guilty of corporate crimes are allowed to live out their years under house arrest, having everything provided for them while the figureheads are punished. Even the lead actor from Brandon’s favourite show doesn’t escape, as his fall from grace is reminiscent of some of Hollywood’s biggest scandals. I found it an insightful commentary on the power of wealth and influence.
Flux is a powerful, character-driven story from a uniquely talented debut author. It is thought-provoking and emotional, blending sci-fi elements with detective noir tones to create an incredible story that can only get better with a second reading. Highly recommended.