Ned Beauman’s 2012 The Teleportation Accident slides along a wet blade of charm and wit, most often of the irreverent variety. A raucously fun read, it draws blood for the rich language, uniquely realized personal stories, and left-field view of early ‘30s flapper life in Europe and Los Angeles. Beauman’s follow up Glow is to be enjoyed for similar reasons, though the blade seems to have dulled some in the meantime.
Glow is the story of Raf and his unintentional involvement in a global synthesized drug scheme involving Burmese revolutionaries, a slippery American corporation, and the most eclectic thing of all, the city of London and its raver youth culture. Music and drugs everything, Raf’s life takes a new direction when riding home from a rave very early one morning after trying a new drug called glow. A fox sitting in the seat behind him, afterwards he sees even stranger things, particularly silent white vans kidnapping people off the streets. It isn’t long before his friend Theo is snapped up. But meeting a half-American/half-Burmese woman calling herself Cherish is what really turns Raf’s life upside down. Can she help him get Theo back and get him another hit of glow?
Like The Teleportation Accident, Glow is a lot of fun at the surface level. The language dynamic, often playful and darkly comedic, Raf’s tale takes many unexpected turns linguistically, and the backstreets and sub-cultures of London come to life under Beauman’s pen. Obviously a lot of time spent structuring the backstory to achieve a desired effect, those who enjoy puzzling out the underlying reality of a character’s plight, from the streets to big business, will certainly enjoy Glow.
But where The Teleportation Accident dug a little deeper into its social and historical roots, Glow remains largely at the surface. The plot wholly contrived, it’s a lot of fun but difficult to parallel to what is, has been, or might be. The foxes, corporate interests, Burmese connection, character interaction, and otherwise are too far-fetched to engage much at the sub-textual level. Like Paolo Bacigalupi or Ken Macleod, Beauman has latched onto a few corrupt realities of modern economy, but uses them for story purposes, the commentary largely limited by plot. Moreover, Glow doesn’t have the same linguistic zip that The Teleportation Accident possesses—yet it’s obvious Beauman was trying for a similar style. There are flashes of the same brilliance, but the effect remains flat by comparison. This being said, Beauman on an off day still puts the majority of contemporary genre in their place.
In the end, Glow is a novel with a lot of bells and whistles. Bursting to the brim with corporate conspiracy, real-life re-enactments, ultra-modern pharmaceutical drugs, pirate radio, 20-something life in modern London, raves, Burmese curry, the war on terror, synthesized drugs, foxes in urbania, big brother social networking, electronic music, and a plot that goes over the top, it’s a drug in itself: a quick fix that leaves you feeling good but has no lasting impression... For foxes I would instead read Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox. For drug induced strangeness in London, I would head to Jeff Noon’s Vurt.