Reviewed by: Arthur Graham
Approximate word count: 13,000-18,000 words
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On his Goodreads profile, Martin Gibbs claims to be a big fan of authors Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and R. Scott Bakker. He enjoys Ellery Queen mysteries and books about Arctic survival. As if reading and writing didn’t keep him busy enough, he is also an avid cross-country skier, mountain biker, and cook. He knows exactly three chords on the guitar.
From the intro:
“Do you sometimes sit there, in your chair, wondering what it all means? Why are we even upon this planet? What insane person decided to place us here and give us these meaningless, hopeless, idiotic chores to complete? As if we were blind rats in a maze of corn. This story will not answer any of these questions. The following is a bizarre story about Voltaire before he sat down to write Candide. I hope that it will at least take your mind off the screaming hell that is reality.
Warning: The following contains material that is harmful to the sane.”
All Voltaire wants to do is finish writing his book, but somehow he keeps getting distracted. After flying to Mercury and getting hitched to Princess Wonkie-Do, he spends some time in an insane asylum, takes a detour to planet Zendor, and returns to Earth where he joins a traveling circus. Events continue to unfold in this vein.
Balls to the wall, methodically random madness.
When he isn’t busy crashing his spaceship into giant asteroids, Voltaire enjoys a series of comic misadventures involving a meat cleaver (which he did not have in 1484), Plutonian psychiatrists, and the galactic communist conspiracy. At one point early on, he realizes that he still has a book to write back home. And then,
After looking at a blotch on Mercury for twenty minutes, Voltaire gave in to free will and started skipping and singing in a girlish voice. There was nothing left to do. Nothing. As he skipped and danced, his song took on a very high pitch, and he started squealing about the little goblins and his long-lost friend, the Earl of Doncaster.
Naturally, after a time I came to doubt Voltaire’s oft-expressed desire to return home and resume working on his book. Still, since this is Voltaire’s Adventures Before Candide we’re discussing here (and not its sequel, Candide), I was eventually able to forgive him.
If only to discover WTF happens next, we follow the protagonist on a quest marked by eruptions of incidental violence and stream-of-consciousness happenings. On his excursion to Zendor, “two men knifed Voltaire in the gut forty-eight times before he found the courage to knee them in areas that stung quite a bit.” However, while attempting to make his escape, “more pressing matters were pushing themselves to the forefront, especially the presence of a giant goat’s spleen on the main control panel” of his miraculously still-intact spaceship.
And so it goes. It therefore comes as no surprise when:
Our great author sped off to Pluto and left the priest with the psychiatrists. They were so intent on the strange man gurgling; they did not notice Voltaire inside of his mongoose costume. ‘I am the Scarlet Pimpernel!’ he screamed to no one. Smiling, he went squealing off for Earth.
This book boasts one of the silliest storylines ever, but the style in which it’s written is nevertheless quite engaging. While it reads more like a rough-cut puree of fever dreams, science fiction, and boyhood fantasies of destruction than anything I’ve ever read, it all congeals together rather nicely despite its decided lack of form. Perhaps this sentiment is summed up best by Eddy Baby, another main “character” who shows up about two-thirds of the way through:
Is your veal...in her attaché case? Do you really believe, that even in your wildest dreams, I would understand those jellyfish lies you feed to me with my Kippers? Do you think that I could actually drink that chalk? Do you like me? Why is the room spinning...? ...Good...good...now I understand why the planet has wings...Ha! Ha! I love this game, don't you? Don't you like to eat those little cream puffs? Why not? YOU BASTARD!
If this passage doesn’t appeal to you, the rest of Voltaire’s Adventures Before Candide probably won’t either.
I’d heed the author’s introductory warning if I were you, especially if you’re one of those finicky readers who value something so overrated as your sanity.
Rating: **** Four stars