Bold as Love

By Debbie Shaw, 10 May 2002

If Hendrix had lived, would he have been heading a countercultural think tank advising the home secretary on the dissolution of the UK and what to do with the House of Lords? Bono’s current foray into politics makes Gwyneth Jones’s Bold As Love look alarmingly prophetic. Her central character, however, really does know everything. Ax Preston, a somewhat megalomaniac guitar hero, has a ‘warehouse’ chip in his head (plus downloadable ‘extras’), stacked with everything he needs to manage the crumbling infrastructure of a near-future England. As the UK breaks up into its component parts and the internet crashes beyond retrieval, a new form of tech develops in which cellular energy fuses with a sort of silicon gel and powers Jones’s version of civilisation-as-we-might-come-to-know-it.

The demons that haunt this brave new world stand out starkly against a background of hippy nostalgia and Jones’ gleeful trashing of the establishment. Here, the summer festivals really do go on forever, no-one goes back to their day job and Buckingham Palace is squatted, renamed The Insanitude and re-fitted as the biggest clubbing venue ever. But the revolution is bloody and its heroes are seriously flawed.

Jones is best known for the award-winning White Queen, a Close Encounters for the post-fordist generation, in which aliens invade the Earth and are comically mystified by the crush of vested interests vying for a stake. Similarly, Bold as Love takes a nicely ironic swipe at fluffy green politics. The hippies here are armed and at least moderately dangerous.

The follow-up, Castles Made of Sand, is trailed on the website along with a soundtrack for the chapters which spans the decades from Hendrix and the Grateful Dead ‘til now, locating individual readers in their own version of teenage innocence and making the violence of the green radical revolution, and the underlying theme of child abuse and alienation, all the more poignant. The site also offers a line of merchandise featuring the fictional pop-culture heroes (proceeds go to Jones’s favourite causes), making a nice and highly significant link between the myth of stardom and the ‘reality’ of fiction. Take your dreams for reality but remember the nightmares might not be far behind.

Debra Benita Shaw <debbieshaw AT> teaches Cultural Studies at the University of East London and is the author of Women, Science & Fiction: the Frankenstein Inheritance

Bold as Love // Gwyneth Jones // Gollancz // 2001 // 308 pages // ISBN 0575070315 // pb £10.99[]