Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Bangkok Asset (Sonchai Jitpleeheep #6) by John Burdett

It is difficult to know if Burdett is so far out of touch he is creating a science fiction world or if he is so in touch that we are the ones inhabiting a present we know little of. He repeats often during this book that the West has so destabilized itself with the corruption of our spirituality and morals, and its support of divisive financial and corporate policy that all is left is for it to collapse into a state of oligarchy, state control, and slavery. The natural outcome of this disintegration are the trans-human creatures he introduces to us in this book: creatures bred to control humans.

All the things we liked about the Burdett series are still there but they are wrapped in this new black packaging. Burdett is funny and insightful. I loved his new character, Krom, a smart, capable lesbian with a full-body tattoo and a fierce libido. Burdett has a point when it comes to trans-humans: eventually we are probably all going to be installing little technological aids into our bodies to prevent problems or enhance features…he just jumped the gun a little with his physically perfect though psychologically stunted spawn.

Our beloved Sonchai is struggling with his history. He wants to know who his father is, and for some strange reason his mother has been withholding. In this episode she finally shows him pictures which helps only a little: it was all too long ago and old men often do not resemble their younger selves.

There is a mystery here, but the old police procedural format seems to have gone out the window. This is far more a psychological thriller with super-elements. It is interesting that Burdett chose to call his freaks trans-humans considering we are just going through trans-talk in the States at the moment. One of his Chinese characters, offered a choice of straight, gay, or trans bars, chose trannies as his far-and-away favorite. Perhaps it is the notion of infinitely adaptable human experience? Are we infinitely adaptable?

Speaking of Chinese, there is a strong suggestion of Chinese influence deep in Thai government business, and throughout Southeast Asia, which probably has an element of truth. It would be difficult to imagine they wouldn’t have a great deal of influence, given China’s size, wealth, population, needs, and proximity.
“War is always a balance between wanting to win and needing to survive.”
The book takes a dog-leg into Cambodia to visit the jungle site of Vietnam-era LSD experiments that sort of fit with the search for Jitpleecheep’s search for his father, but it is so dark and weird that it seemed Burdett wanted to add this to the historical record regardless of whether or not it fit perfectly. Is it true? Again, there may be elements of truth, though it is infuriating America’s secret spy agency would have this kind of reach in a country with which we had no diplomatic relations for at least four years in the 1960’s. Maybe it is folklore kept alive by people Burdett meets in Bangkok—it must be very strange at times in Bangkok with all those old operators hanging around.

Burdett also reminds us of three U.S. citizens who self-immolated in front of government buildings to protest the Vietnam War. I’d never heard of this. Alice Herz, Roger LaPorte, Norman Morrison. November 1965. How effectively they were erased.

One reviewer said the book was open-ended, suggesting a further installment in this vein. Perhaps that is true, though I felt Burdett was just offering questions for us all to consider. Who wouldn’t want enhancements of one sort or another? It depends. It depends on what we give up in the process, and what kind of society we eventually want. He has a couple of zinger quotes that seem appropriate to present-day America:
“Haven’t you noticed how childish the West has become? Just when it most needs men and women of mature judgment it seems there aren’t any. Such a society is vulnerable to the most radical manipulation…what do dissatisfied children do? They complain, they cry—but it never occurs to them to rebel effectively…Infantilism and slavery go hand in hand…”
I am only marginally sad to lose Sonchai Jitpleecheep to Burdett’s changing fictional world. It seems Burdett is giving us something new, filled with the insights of a lifetime. Thought-provoking.

A word on the audio: Actor Stephen Hogan does an excellent job with the material but he has a way of dropping his voice to indicate a character's thought or the narrator speaking. The change in register is so great that unless one is wearing headphones, one has to adjust the volume constantly, otherwise the other characters' voices are much too loud. This is only a problem in a car or on a stereo system. A suggestion to Recorded Books then, is that Hogan can drop his voice, but not to such a great extent. The difference in loudness is the problem.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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