by Lee Matthew Goldberg
The City; a promise of Utopia for the ‘Selected’. Those selected to escape their past; misfits, outcasts, convicts - all are given a place to live, work and play, but, in reality, mentally shackled in a grim Dystopia controlled by The Man in Eye Tower, a freakily hideous entity. Graham Weatherend, an advertising executive, is given a chance to rise above the soul-destroying grind and market Pow! soda to the masses; however, is this all another part of The Man’s malevolent experiment?...
Orange City ably straddles the genres of science fiction, horror, thriller and dystopian fantasy to produce a fast-paced, thought-provoking, conceptualised reboot mash-up of 1984 and Bladerunner. The prologue and early chapters immediately captivate and absorb the reader into the bleak, post-apocalyptic world. The writing is slick yet emotive, imbued with cynicism and black humour. Once Graham is ‘selected’ and we are into the main narrative, Mr Goldberg’s imagination is released full-throttle. The City is brilliantly realised in all its kaleidoscopic visual futurism. It’s an intense, absorbing read due not only to the sensory nature of the prose but also clever little conceptual detailing especially in the heavily stylised ‘Downtown’ zone. The offices of Warton Mind & Donovan, where Graham works, are comprehensively imagined with sinister, faceless surveillance. The depiction serves as both a wickedly exaggerated parody of corporate working life and a vicious warning that we are not to far away from this ghastly representation. The characterisation and descriptive imagery of ‘The Man’ is truly nasty and resultingly, he is a pretty terrifying character. I also found the portrayals of Shelby, Warton, Mind and Donovan, albeit brief, sickeningly pathetic and unpleasant.
When Graham begins imbibing the Pow! sodas, the book is at its absolute strongest. We are taken down a rabbit-hole of visual and emotional intensity; it becomes increasingly surreal and almost enjoyably psychedelic before both the reader and Graham are plunged into nightmare of all-consuming paranoia and fear. There is no dramatic irony here; we are on the journey with Graham and it’s a blisteringly uncomfortable ride. Graham is a complex character but I did struggle to feel sympathy for him. I also felt the character of ‘E’ could have been developed or involved more. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the characterisation of Mick, Graham’s work colleague, he was very well-observed; anyone that has worked in a large office has unfortunately come across a ‘Mick’. As we head towards the end, Orange City did look to be taking a predictable route with the story arc but then we have a few twists; some work well, some not so. The ending is a touch abrupt and slightly fractured. I thought The Man could have been utilised better, he is such a strong, grotesque character and seemed a little wasted although I suspect he may reappear in the second instalment.
Notwithstanding, Orange City is a vibrant, immersive and magnificently imaginative dystopian thriller that is quite brutal in parts. Highly recommended.