Brian Clevinger's "Nuklear Age" seems to have a few, divided camps squabbling about how his long-awaited book is. Some blindly praise it so much that you can almost hear them speaking `leet' in their daily lives, some are disillusioned that it is not 8-bit Theatre without the pixels, and some are just bitter.
As with nearly anything so reviewed on Amazon, the truth lies somewhere in between. "Nuklear Age" has a lot of problems. Most of them are minor, but a few are major. The minor ones can be more than likely written off as a difference of taste. The major ones ... well, that's where it turns into a debate.
The first major problem is with the beginning. In the introduction, Brian tells the reader that the book is not to be read like a normal book, that it is intended to be read as one or two chapters per day. Fair enough, but I don't like to be told how to read my books. However, I gave it a go and, quite frankly, it doesn't help the book. The first, say fifteen chapters, amble along. In retrospect, upon rereading they might not seem as difficult to get through, but for a first time reader, it was a chore. Some jokes felt horribly forced ("A letter that could be a clue from my mysterious past?!"), the characters started off as paper cutouts (which, as expected, they eventually evolved beyond. For the most part). It's hard to get into and there are only a few chuckles during the tedious first battle with Dr. Menace and the subsequent victory meal. But once the Crushtacean appeared (about Chapter 20, I think. I wish I could be more accurate, but I've leant the book to a friend) the book felt to have found its niche.
Some other minor problems: editing, as has been mentioned in I think all but 2 of the current reviews, is nonexistent. Certainly, the author can't be faulted for most of these, especially since it looks that a lot of the misspellings are the result of a computer error. However, Brian's sentence structure and pacing can be grating at times. When he gets something right, it's wonderful. When it's wrong, I'm mentally pulling out the red-pen and scribbling over the page (then again, I do this with major authors too, just not with as much frequency). This isn't horrible, it just detracts from the pacing and the flow of the novel.
Now then. The characters. Atomik Lad felt like the only one who had any sort of dimension. Nukie was shallow, and I understand that was the intent, so no squabbles there. But everyone apart from Docs Genius and Menace felt like an assembly-line supporting cast with one characteristic apiece. Angus is temperamental; MMMM is suave; Nihel is Evil (with a capital "E"); Superion is a Douchebag (with a captial "Douche"). They served their purpose, but I didn't really care about them. And with over 600 pages of text, the reader SHOULD know more about them than their attitude and their powers. I felt that trimming some of the superfluous Nuke plot treads down a bit and focusing on the supporting cast could have helped a great deal.
It also felt terribly episodic at points. Nihel and his gang just show up in the last 100 pages and yet Nihel is the Nemesis (with a capital ... oh, you get the idea). Simply tossing in some foreshadowing toward his coming would greatly help strengthen the character (maybe attacking another planet beforehand, something like that). I understand that yes, comic books are episodic, but plot threads in them are still left dangling, mysteries are hinted at and resolved later on. It doesn't always have to be "SUDDENLY!". And for the most part, the book is not, but especially with the later chapters, it came off as such.
The last major problem is the ending. In the Author's Note, Brian explains that suddenly taking the book from satire to grim is funny. Why? Because it's unexpected. Bravo. You've just cheapened the story. What happens (spoiler-free) isn't funny because it has nothing to do with anything. As a satire, the book has no themes, so the big turning point has no effect because it can't operate on any themes. It just changes gears. I'm not arguing for a happy ending, I'm merely pointing out that, in trying to write a 600 page joke, the story suffers. The fact of the matter is that a joke is funny, not as Brian claims, because it's unexpected. And ONE-LINER is funny for that reason, but not a joke. A joke's punchline is predicated on an irony or an absurdity in the buildup. That's why the ending doesn't work. It's not because one "doesn't get it".
That isn't to say the book doesn't have its merits. There are several points of wonderful genius. The KI fields come to mind, as do some of the battles (I loved Superion). I'd love nothing more than to have "Nuklear Age" come into the mainstream and become on of those books like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" that serves as an apotheosis for a genre. But without some major changes or at least and OPENNESS to change, I sadly can't see any publishers wanting to invest their money in it. Publishers are stupid. With a little guidance and some sleeves-rolled-up editing, "Nuklear Age" could be one of the more ingenious works of fiction out there. As it stands, it will probably become a cult sensation.
Will I read "Nuklear Age" again? Most certainly, though not for a while. If Brian writes another book, would I pick it up? In a heartbeat. "Nuklear Age" is the origin of a fresh voice in the published industry. The voice just needs a little refining is all.