‘She’s a character in a social narrative with no arc’: A Review of the Marlowe Kana Series

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A couple weeks ago, I received a lovely little pressie from writer Joe Peacock. Opening the carefully wrapped package, I was quite excited to see his first three volumes of his Marlowe Kana series, something that I’ve been eyeing off and on for a little while. The synopsis is as follows:

‘It’s 51 years after the Second American Civil War. The 40 million citizens of the United American State are aghast to find that their biggest celebrity, Major Marlowe Kana of the Imagen Military and Security Division (MilSec), has just been found guilty of treason. Every Feed on the Net has been covering the events of her trial, and two questions remain to be answered: What will happen to MK, and what will the nation watch now that the Next Top Soldier Hall-of-Famer (and star of the most-watched Feed in history) is locked away? The answer comes almost immediately and shakes the country to its core.’

Though the above plot synopsis covers the first volume, the series itself is more like a giant novel cobbled together with smaller chapters interwoven akin to the way some manga is written. Though this concept has some inherent problems, such as readers losing interest or readers forgetting important plot details, I think it works for the Marlowe Kana series. Each chapter feels as if it carries enough weight to be a smaller story in the universe, something in which, if done correctly, works beautifully. Peacock does this well with his ‘Day in the Life of’ chapters where he examines an unimportant or unrecognised character and gives them a little story that weaves into the greater narrative. This reminded me of how Warren Ellis wrote some of his issues for Transmetropolitan, and anything that reminds me of Ellis is always great in my opinion.

‘Post to my Feed that I’ll never, ever believe that MK is guilty, and anyone who does is immediately banned from my list!’ Artwork by Meghan Hetrick.

The concept for the Marlowe Kana series is also very intriguing. Just by reading the plot synopsis, you get a nice little social media, fake news-y vibe. This was something that I really liked, and, at times, Peacock elaborates on this concept quite well. I do wish that he did go into the concept a bit further, or riffed off Death Race 2000 or The Running Man a bit more (media concept-wise, not story-wise).

Also, a brief shout out to the cover artist, Meghan Hetrick, and background character designer, Alexandria Monik. Their artwork is fantastic, and I look forward to seeing more science fiction/cyberpunk pieces from them at some point.

While there are many great things about the series, there are also quite a few things that need to be said about the editing of this series. On a technical level, there are many font inconsistencies (primarily with quotation marks and commas), which may sound insignificant, but does look amateurish. This could have been easily fixed, and still think it can be done if Peacock has the time and resources. The same can be said with the Peacock’s preference to use the double hyphen ‘–’ instead of using the preferred method of the em dash ‘—’. I chalked this up to preference, but he does suddenly use the em dash at times, so it may have been his Word processor acting up. Another simple, albeit tedious fix that I think will give the series an air of legitimacy overall.

‘What’s the harm in adding a damn twelve-year-old hacker to the mix? Nines, you’re in.’ Artwork by Alexandria Monik.

Peacock tends to also favour dialogue in place of action. Yes, the series is very action packed (will get to that in a moment), but there are times where people don’t stop talking about their actions, what their plans are, what they are going to do and how they are feeling. It does clutter the pages with a lot of hammy lines like ‘Stripping is a noble profession’, to a lot of swearing and smarmy Han Solo-y rebukes from the protagonist. This can work if well-timed, but it mostly falls flat, as does many of the jokes, and arrogant nature of Marlowe that made me dislike her towards the end.

In nearly every independent book review, I tend to always repeat myself—show don’t tell. Admittedly, this is a very difficult thing to do, for we writers tend to get caught up in the heat of the moment. However, this is very important and integral to storytelling, as it allows the reader to paint imagery with your words, and when done correctly, is beautiful. With Peacock favouring the dialogue-driven narrative form, he falls into telling the reader about his world without showing us much. We do get beautifully written lines like, ‘It, however, couldn’t prevent her from smelling her own cooked flesh’, but they are very few and in between. Distil your imagery and allow the reader to be immersed in your world. People often forget that while William Gibson’s Sprawl series is action-packed, it perfectly slows down, allowing the reader to be consumed by the vastness of the sprawl and matrix itself.

Slow down. Breathe in. Paint. Proceed.

‘It seems you didn’t get the memo that I am the fucking PRESIDENT of the United American State, and I need you to leave me the FUCK alone!’ Cook screamed. Artwork by Alexandria Monik.

Perhaps my major cause of concern with the series is the flatness of the background characters. Nearly everyone, excluding the protagonist, falls flat, or just feels like an accessory to the plot. The things readers remember most about cyberpunk fiction are the wacky and unstable figures that permeate the text. I think this might be due to the issue of Marlowe herself. She is written to be super hard, edgy and awesome, that none of the other characters can compete when she is on the page. I mentioned that I tended to prefer the series when I came across the ‘Day in the Life of’ chapters because she wasn’t there. It doesn’t help that she’s also quite exaggerated, and at times, felt a bit like a Mary Sue. She is this awesome athlete and hero that we love and will follow to the end. She may have been flawed, but I couldn’t really notice amid the adoration of her posse.

I did mention that I would come back to writing about how the series is action-packed, and this is something that can be quite divisive. I personally prefer slower paced SF narratives, but I know that there are a lot of readers out there that prefer guns blazing, faster-paced stories. I personally tend to think that cyberpunk should be written differently, but who am I to judge someone else’s preference?

‘Fame irritated her, but rubbing her success in the face of her detractors somehow made it all worth it.’

Although it may seem that I railed against this series quite harshly, I do in fact admire Peacock, for his series does seem like a labour of love and passion. This is evident when looking over his website, a realm in the static that has been lovingly designed and updated with the hand of a genuine artist. Whilst I could not get over the technical aspects of the series, the characters or pacing of the narrative, I know that there is an audience for this kind of work, and I cannot recommend this enough for them.

If you think you’re the type of person to plunge into Peacock’s universe, you can read the entire thing here for free, or snap up hardcopy versions here. It’s been getting some great reviews, some from important writers like David Gallaher (Vampire: The Masquerade, Green Lantern, Iron Man, etc.) and Olliver Kirby (Funimation). You can also follow Peacock on various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Marlowe Kana – 6/10


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