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The Crack Magazine

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Vehicle by Jen Calleja

The people of the Islets, a long-forgotten roaming Edenic archipelago, need help so an agent of the Nation, Hester Heller, is sent out by her abusive controller to investigate. Under the cover of a tour with her band she’s able to visit cities and interview various power brokers from the Mainland to find out what help and support, if any, will be offered to the Isletese. Jen Calleja’s fantastic novel Vehicle attempts to answer this question, which under the cloak of a mind-bending look at the Isletese Disaster, is a cunning dagger to the heart of current governments around the world who casually deal in ignorance, exploitation, climate change denial and xenophobia. Vehicle’s short chapters build up the evidence of the on-the-run researchers, which consists of, among other things, translated diary entries, interviews, reports, think-pieces and fuel further speculation: who is Hester Heller? How much did she find out about the Isletese Disaster? And why are the current leaders of the Nation so concerned about it fifty years later? The Nation is a xenophobic, technocratic nightmare, a Britain of the near future, a country which has adopted a “no one in, no one out” policy and is paranoid about anyone messing with their favoured narrative: what you don’t know won’t harm you. However, as the truth about the Islets and Hester Heller is uncovered you begin to wonder whether the Nation’s unfounded arrogance, aloofness and hatred of alternative history is about to be given a well-deserved punch in the chops. And Hester Heller? Traitor or hero? Did her Isletese translations make a difference? And what about her rebellious and explosive tour diary (“I want to forget and remember at the same time”)? With its dashes of, oh, I don’t know, Quin, Pynchon, Chute, Gibson and Ballard, Jen Calleja’s mind-blowing mix of secret-state hatred of the other, alt culture and written word-power has produced a compulsive future classic. I loved Vehicle. Totally recommended.

Vehicle – Jen Calleja – publ. Prototype Publishing - £12.00

Steven Long