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In a future Los Angeles, a terrorist group called the Stay Ready Soldiers (SRS) has declared war on seemingly everyone. The city is on the verge of martial law, with political and corporate corruption everywhere in a city all but collapsed. Anti-establishment groups roam L.A. with advanced weaponry virtually matching the powers of the federal government. People in endless numbers, both good guys and bad guys, are blown to bits throughout the novel with the blood and violence found in the most-venal video games. Yet, themes of systemic injustice come to bear in the experiences and emotions of the central cast of characters while facing daunting opposition to their cause.
In a country described by the media in the book as being on the verge of collapse, with issues including unemployment, crime, healthcare, education, immigration, and climate change quickly eroding, viewers are asked to decide whether the SRS is either a force of freedom fighters or domestic terrorists. Which are they? You get a chance to choose as the book opens with a bloody attack on a police unit by two SRS soldiers, Geronimo and Kali, who are as close as a love interest as any two people in the book.
The pair must keep their wits (and guns) about them to cross the dilapidated streets of a neglected stretch of L.A., meeting with allies in the fight for justice and change. They face hired killers and the U.S. government’s agents, as well as crises of faith and the threat of a conspiracy that could overturn their very mission.
A Night in Babylon is full of larger-than-life action scenes in which bullets fly, fires burn, and explosions rock the night. From the beginning of the book, this action sets up the stakes: the Stay Ready Soldiers’ lives hang in the balance of one night, as they hunt and are hunted. The narrative flows in and out, taking the reader smoothly from tense scenes to calm and emotionally intimate ones, and back to the action yet again. There’s time to breathe with this story, but the sense of danger is never far away. The action takes surprising turns within the various firefights, and though sometimes there isn’t enough time spent setting up details that become important later in the scene, the well-paced prose keeps the fights exciting.
The LAPD and U.S. federal agents are the distinct villains, painted as more than just cruel individuals but as part of a massive unjust system that shoves people of color down, especially in cities like Los Angeles. A Night in Babylon shows abuses of power like those that exist in the real world, and even though the action scenes are extravagant, the violence and injustice that drives the SRS are drawn from reality. The story critiques not only how authority reacts to resistance against violence with a heightening of violence, but also how authorities can exploit unstable times and places to expand their power and control over people.
Viewing this novel strictly as violence porn would be a mistake. Woven into it are dystopian themes that are now inescapably part of today’s America taken to extremes. At the same time, it does not shrink from asking questions about the nature of today’s violence. Embedded in the story are questions about the role of corporations in bed with the government. What do we really know, the book asks, about the intertwined interests of politicians and corporations? Questions like these used to be relegated to comic books and/or the Internet’s dark side. With credible news reports on similar issues in today’s headlines in newspapers and on T.V., it is undoubtedly fair games for novels such as this one to take these discussions into literature and let readers decide their relevance.
What is A Night in Babylon ultimately trying to say? Is it entertainment, a political tract, or a warning? The cynicism expressed in this relatively short novel is too blatant to ignore, but it does not seem to cut to the left or the right. In that sense, it is a Rorschach test for readers to determine its point of view. Whichever way readers respond, it’s a book that is hard to ignore.