Apocalypse Now Now by Charlie Human
I LOVE THE SMELL OF PARALLEL DIMENSIONS IN THE MORNING
Baxter Zevcenko’s life is pretty sweet. As the 16-year-old kingpin of the Spider, his smut-peddling schoolyard syndicate, he’s making a name for himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Profits are on the rise, the other gangs are staying out of his business, and he’s going out with Esme, the girl of his dreams.
But when Esme gets kidnapped, and all the clues point towards strange forces at work, things start to get seriously weird. The only man drunk enough to help is a bearded, booze-soaked, supernatural bounty hunter that goes by the name of Jackson ‘Jackie’ Ronin.
Plunged into the increasingly bizarre landscape of Cape Town’s supernatural underworld, Baxter and Ronin team up to save Esme. On a journey that takes them through the realms of impossibility, they must face every conceivable nightmare to get her back, including the odd brush with the Apocalypse.
Some of my favourite experiences when it comes to reading are when I start a new book and the author is a totally unknown quantity. No expectations, no history, just me and a brand new story that holds the promise of roads not yet travelled. I like it when things are nice, simple and uncomplicated. That’s exactly what happened when Apocalypse Now Now landed on my lap. I knew nothing about Charlie Human and I’d never heard any buzz surrounding the book.
It may shock you to discover but, truth be told, teenagers sometimes aren’t a terribly nice bunch of people. Still childish enough to be utterly contemptible sociopaths, but adult enough to be forced to shoulder the responsibility of their actions. Though I’m hurtling toward a significant birthday, one that happens roughly in the middle somewhere, I still vaguely remember being a teen. I’ll admit it now – I was a huge pain in the ass (I’m sorry Mum, Sis). No one but me was ever right, and I was almost always at odds with the entire world. Getting through your teens is nothing if not traumatic. Now imagine all that with the added complication of supernatural forces that may or may not be real and are attempting to control your every move.
Baxter Zevcenko perfectly embodies your typical teen. Brash, cock-sure strut one moment, and then all childlike innocence the next. He comes across as a delightful amalgam of Machiavelli and Harry Potter. On more than one occasion I had a profound desire to give him a good slap. As the plot continued to unfold however, I found myself warming to the young man. Ultimately, I suspect he’s really not as bad as he thinks he is. Sure his relationships with his family and friends are a bit strained, but he is at the very peak of the school pecking order. Everyone just needs to appreciate how clever he is and everything will be fine.
My other favourite character without doubt has to be Jackie Ronin. He’s just so damned demented, I loved him. Like a hard-boiled supernatural fixer, he lives on the periphery of normal existence. He introduces Baxter to a brand new world of death, destruction and decay. What teenager wouldn’t get a kick out of that? There are also a few tiny nuggets of Ronin’s history scattered throughout the narrative that suggest an even more colourful past. Murky doesn’t seem like an adequate enough word to describe him. Sadly, Ronin’s history remains shrouded in secrecy, the tantilising glimpses that the author reveals are never explored in any great depth. I’ll state categorically here and now that I will immediately buy, or indeed sell my soul, for any novel that features more of Mr Ronin.
In hindsight I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I spotted the beguiling cover artwork by Joey Hi-Fi, I should have guessed that beneath it beats the darkest literary hearts. Human’s first novel showcases an author who delights in messing with his reader’s heads. He plays around with the ambiguities that exist in Baxter’s life and it makes for an enthralling tale. I was particularly impressed with the way Human has folded elements of South African folklore and horror into the mix. It all fit together seamlessly.
Apocalypse Now Now is a story for anyone who has ever felt left out or isolated, for anyone who has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous high school. The writing manages to be funny in one sentence and then horrifically graphic the next. This is highly entertaining and unexpected fiction that delivers on every single promise. I really wouldn’t want to be Charlie Human right now. The difficult second novel is going to have to go some to beat this.
Apocalypse Now Now is published by Century and is available now. It is a truly astounding debut that is well worth your time.