It appears that Reality TV is not as harmless as one might have thought. When Channel Blue begins to lose visitors, largely because its reality stars have become a little too selfish and nasty to one another, then there is only one thing for it – a grand finale, an all-out ratings grabber, a show to be talked of down the pub for years. The fact that it involves the destruction of the Earth through a carefully orchestrated plan involving the distribution of offensive pens to men with their fingers on the nuclear bomb button is little more than an inconvenience. It’s sad for those who have worked on the show, of course, they might even miss some of the mad as hatters humans, but to save jobs, Channel Blue has to go. Earth has to go.
In a novel reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy mixed with The Truman Show, our host is failing Hollywood screenwriter Perry Bunt. He now does what a failed screenwriter is supposed to do in such reduced circumstances, he teaches screenwriting. Among his students is the beautiful, flawless Amanda. She rarely contributes, she just scribbles down ideas taken from the scripts of Perry’s fledgling writers. When Perry, driven by lust, follows her one day he finds himself in a television studio in front of a director. The only problem is that the director is a big blob of slime with a near infinite number of eyeballs. Perry is immune to all desperate efforts to brainwash him (something to do with metal plates in the head) and so from that moment onwards everything changes for this rather hapless human. It’s not long before he has taken on to his own shoulders the burden of boosting Channel Blue’s ratings, of saving Earth. It’s a heavy load and it gets him into all sorts of trouble. All watched by flies. Lots and lots of flies. Or, as these aliens like to call them, cameras.
There is lots to enjoy in Channel Blue. It is almost overflowing with humorous situations and jokes as Perry tries to make his fellow humans more pleasing to alien TV viewers, even starting a cult encouraging everyone to be nice to everyone else to keep the aliens happy. There are explanations for everything, nothing is not televised, even dreams, visions and religion itself have an alien origin. In tandem with the picture on Earth, there’s also much to learn about Amanda and her fellow aliens – notably their sexual tastes – and hints about what they’ve done elsewhere in the Universe.
But while Channel Blue did make me laugh outloud on a few occasions, and I did warm to Perry, on the whole it left me with not much of an impression. Many of its jokes (especially those about God, Satan, Elvis, religious fanatics etc) seemed forced and predictable. Perry’s obsession with sex also got rather tiresome. The novel does make an effort to become more serious at a later point, touching on themes of terrorism, rendition and torture, but the change in mood didn’t work for me, neither did the ending. Any moralising about what humans have done to their world and how nasty people have become seems less biting when the aliens are shown to be even worse.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books are among my science fiction first loves. It’s possible that this predisposed me to not enjoy a novel that works so hard to remind me of it.