Simon Ings’ Wolves is an unsettling read: playing with form and expectation. It is an almost sociopathic novel that perhaps affirms the motion of life. It echoes the Harrisonian hatred of the ennui of life yet does not quite go as far as imploding to see what will happen. Instead we are caught up in the characters’ own version of imploding with equal disregard for each other or themselves.
Out of the blue, Conrad is contacted by Michel, his childhood friend and invited out to see him. Initially believing that it is just a way of being shown Michel’s new partner, Conrad goes and finds a forward momentum that has eluded him. He leaves his partner and begins working for an augmented reality start up.
In between these gaps, memories of childhood sneak through and begin to work their way out as a noir crime narrative. Conrad found his mother dead in the back of his father’s car in the midst of one of her trips to a nearby protest camp where it sounds like she is also being mistreated. Conrad fixates on the albino whom his father, a maker of prosthetic vision equipment, has helped.
As part of the start up, echoing his father’s footsteps, he comes into contact with the man, Bryon Vaux, again as an investor in the company. Mis-understanding the capacity for cruelty and humiliation, Conrad confronts him and finds that he was wrong and that he is also not as self-destructive. Michel, meanwhile, continues his apparently successful life ignoring the hollowness within and falls into his own madness and visions. Aware that Conrad is the father of his child, a short lived liaison after a party that featured destruction, he gives into his own obsessions as if he is enacting Vathek’s pursuit of selfish hedonistic destruction.
So what are the wolves? The nipping of history on their shared and very separate histories? Conrad, eventually faces himself, his destiny and begins seeing the world. Whilst his companions work on altering the surface of the world, he questions its narrative. It does remind me not only of M John Harrison but also William Gibson’s close questioning of the world. The technology here is superficial but it raises the questions of vision.
Through the novel, vision is impeded and altered. Conrad’s father uses echo location to help give a semblance of vision to blinded personnel and he becomes a sales person for augmented reality company. Selling dreams to be made into a version of reality, the product that he sells overlays a personalised version of the world into contact lenses, looking at ways of fooling the head further. It is a less extreme version of the obsession that Michel falls into: an all consuming love for the Fall in its many forms. Hedonistically falling for his own lie, Michel finally falls headlong into the collapse that comes after a life of pride, an echo of the other light bringer. He never seems to have come to terms with himself or how own mistakes in the same way that Conrad must do.
So perhaps the novel is somehow able to move through its own psychopathology and misdirections and find motion. It does not offer a quick and happy truth. Instead it works to question how we think we view the world and how to question the story it wants to tell us and that we wish to overlay onto it. Some while ago in a review of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, the critic Gary Wolfe asked if such a beast as realistic Sf exists. He argued that it did with that particular novel and Wolves certainly joins and proves that this beast does exist. There is no future gazing or extrapolation yet asks fierce questions about versions of the world, and demands answers.
Wolves is a book that plays with our expectations of genre and merrily destroys them in a thoroughly pissed off manner. Like a judgement on the genre, he finds it lacking the critical gaze that it needs and looks at different ways of telling his story. Abstract, horrific, and passionate, this is not a novel to be missed.