New Releases: The Company by KJ Parker
Monday, October 19, 2009
KJ Parker is a Pornokitsch favorite - a terrific author proving that proper fantasy is about characters and themes, and not merely elaborate world-building.
Parker combines gritty philosophy with extraordinarily well-developed characters to create disturbing, existential stories. Amongst other things, Parker is also a proper horror writer - eschewing cheap, graphic reveals and instead building unbearably tense situations 'off-camera'.
Whomever he or she is, Parker is a hell of a writer.
Happily, The Company, newly released in the UK, is up to Parker's standard level of brilliance.
The Company is a tightly-plotted thriller about a handful of ex-army men trying to found their own escapist, Utopian paradise. Think J.G. Ballard crossed with Joe Abercrombie - extraordinarily flawed and angry men trying to build a perfect world (for them).
The existentialist connections go much further than Ballard as well. The veterans are forced to confront Kafkaesque bureaucracy, Camusian internal struggles and, eventually, the discovery that, as Sartre put it, "hell is other people".
Literary name-dropping aside, there's something pleasantly surprisingly about a book about fantasy warriors that features neither fantasy nor warfare. The Company is about the lingering effects of war - physical, mental and moral. This book could easily have been set in the present day, but by abstracting it from the 'real world', Parker has made it more about the people than the politics. The reader has connection with the war that these soldiers fought - instead, we're forced to draw our own conclusions, shed our prejudice and treat them like real people. An impressive task for a "fantasy" novel.
Parker says that the book stemmed from the "image of a tall man in a [military greatcoat] coming home" - and, from there, Parker went deeper exploring the ramifications of war:
The veterans I’ve talked to all said the same thing; it was the comradeship, the friends, that made it bearable, even joyful. Do you still see your old army buddies, I ask? None of them do. I conclude that my original mental image was deceptive; nobody comes home from the war, because everybody who fights in the war stays there, for ever and ever, and somebody else comes home, wearing their coat.
The Company is a beautiful, sad, difficult novel - and one that shows the full value of fantasy when it comes to exploring difficult themes.