When I was in Baltimore for World Fantasy last year, I attended a reading by Zig Zag Claybourne (aka Clarence Young). He read from a novel, The Brother’s Jet Stream: Leviathan. When he was done I shook my head and thought, “What the f— was that?”
So I got the novel on my kindle a few weeks later, started at the beginning and went through it. I’m not about to try to summarize the plot to this book because I could only do it an injustice. You basically have the brothers Jetstream, Milo and Ramses, a pair of trench coat wearing, space traveling adventurers out to thwart the self cloning, evil Buford, but don’t forget the leviathan, a whale created at the dawn of the universe, women with super powers, Atlantis, a good measure of biblical reference and interwoven themes, checkers, the multiverse, vampires, etc.
What I encountered was a true to life contemporary Science Fiction epic that conquers and appropriates the tired world of Space Opera and reconstitutes it as a psychedelic (and I’m not referencing drugs here, but freewheeling visionary power) product of Afro-futurism. The language, the story-line, the characters, the entire sensibility of the book is full of a different kind of energy than pretty much any other SF I’ve seen. It’s akin in its narrative flow and hilarious humor to something like Robert Coover’s Ghost Town, but I sense a cultural identity in this that is different, more along the lines of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo –not so much like Reed’s in that it’s about the history of humanity or lack thereof but it might be about the history of the whiteness of SF space adventure and what lies beyond that.
The Brothers Jetstream smashes the status quo to pieces.
I mentioned this book in relation to another review I did a while ago about Bill Campbell’s Baaaad Muthaz graphic novel. I see a real kinship between them, finding their creative origins in artists like Sun Ra and the Hendrix of “The Star Spangled Banner,” a grand discombobulation of the expected. We recognize the tropes but what’s underlying them is a wholly different energy.
What I mean by psychedelic is that you aren’t sure what’s going to happen at any given moment, a sense that somebody has all the colors and is not afraid to use them all at once. Whether they do or not is beside the point, the promise of it is its own weird reality.
It’s going to take a much better reviewer than me to capture the importance of this novel and someone who is legitimately versed in Afro-futurism, which I’m not.
Forgive me for getting excited about it, though, even if I can’t exactly put my finger on its cosmic pulse. I’m surprised this book wasn’t reviewed much at all when it’s doing some really interesting things with the genre. It’s a novel that asks courage of its readers. For those who are willing to take the plunge, you just might find someday that you’ve read a classic.
Jeffrey Ford appeared in the very first issue of Black Gate with the acclaimed story “Exo-Skeleton Town,” which won the 2006 Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, the French national speculative fiction award (Read the complete story here). His novels include The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, and Ahab’s Return; his short fiction has been collected in The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace, and A Natural History of Hell. He is the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, Nebula, Shirley Jackson Award, and Edgar Allan Poe Award. His website is well-builtcity.com.