Illustration by Bob AulOne gray morning in October, the front page of the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Senate had snubbed the Nuclear Weapons Test Ban Treaty while lamenting a military coup in Pakistan that put that country's nuclear arsenal into uncertain hands. At roughly the same time, the OC Weekly received several packets of instant hot cocoa. The cocoa came packaged with a book, Penny Perkins' Bob Bridges: An Apocalyptic Fable, but frankly, the cocoa crowded our attention. But with two cups of cocoa warming our bones, we actually readthe book, which turned out to be very, very strange.
Bob Bridges is one in a seemingly endless parade of dystopic novels born of millennium fever. In Perkins' future, the Y2K failures of various nuclear warheads—including many missile programs written in codes so old no one can read them anymore—set off events that obliterate all of humanity and most other life forms as well.
"Shall we review the chain of events?" Perkins asks through Cock, a philosophizing, spiritually enlightened, time-traveling cockroach from the future. (Yes, "a philosophizing, spiritually enlightened, time-traveling cockroach from the future." And, yes, his name is Cock, which is really hard to take seriously—especially when Perkins writes sentences like "Bob liked to tease Cock." But we digress.)
"The Y2K bug will cause widespread nuclear meltdowns and the unleashing of germ warfare stockpiles, among other life-ending horrors, including the collapse of the worldwide power grid," followed by a "series of natural disasters such as forest fires, tidal waves, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc., followed by a global nuclear winter."
This, of course, wipes mankind off the face of the planet by 2012—which (coincidentally) is when the Mayan calendar runs out and also when Terrence McKenna's Wheel of Time winds down, so thankfully, we have every conspiracy/catastrophist theory covered nicely.
The Earth's inheritors? Why, philosophizing, spiritually enlightened, time-traveling cockroaches. Of course.
What's amazing is that we actually enjoyed this book—maybe because Perkins seems to know just how lame all this is, maybe because Perkins is not above a little self-mockery. Evidence: Bob, the book's namesake, is a top-flight computer programmer working as a Y2K consultant for the Department of Defense. When his research indicates that the problem is not only more widespread than previously believed but also completely unsolvable, Bob is fired for making too much noise. He promptly gets raving drunk and passes out into a half-eaten pizza, only to be awakened by Cock (stop snickering), who tries to persuade him to come to the future to solve a historical puzzle. Cock's method of persuasion? Spout New Age philosophy until Bob relents.
Really, Cock's over-the-top philosophizing would be the most tedious part of the book if Bob's cynicism weren't so thoroughly entertaining. For example, after Cock (I said, stop snickering) explains collective consciousness and the interconnectedness of all beings, Bob replies, "Are you sure you're from the future . . . and not some huge bong party?"
It's obvious that the author's motivation in this novel is to espouse her nutty-crunchy, live-in-harmony-with-the-universe, intergalactic view. Which is fine if you're into that sort of thing. But if Cock is the author's voice, Bob is certainly the enlightened reader's, and by the end of section two this reader was thankful Bob was there.
Although the book is larded with New Age mysticism that falls just short of being actually annoying, it's also wonderfully absurd and funny, even if there's very little original here—not if you've read any McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson or Grant Morrison, except for, perhaps, one lone idea. Cock explains at one point that "the climate changed, the Earth warmed, the ocean belched back onto its shores the dung you had dumped into it. . . . You massacred those whose beliefs were different than your own. The rivers turned to blood, the sky to soot, and the fields to ashes. And still you heard not the small, still voice that said, 'Enough, no more.'"
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So what's new? Nowhere more than in Orange County do we know the mania with which land development is pursued—with every open space on the Laguna coastline soon to be a condominium, Huntington Beach near-toxic from upstream pollution, our inland cities collapsing into decrepitude. Perkins' contribution is this: rather than offing itself in a horrendous accident, mankind deliberately chose—if only subconsciously—a sort of collective hara-kiri, responding to an evolutionary imperative, the survival of the planet is more important than the survival of any particular species.
"When you became too destructive," Cock tells Bob, "when your species threatened the very life of the larger system that gave it birth, then you quite naturally and understandably had to be terminated . . . by the larger system."
It's a chilling thought, one that's hard to dispute as we sit sipping cocoa over apocalyptic headlines, when it seems that the Earth—convulsing in earthquakes, climate change and volcanic eruption—is ready to be done with us. But it's still hard to take from anyone named Cock.
Bob Bridges: An Apocalyptic Fable by Penny Perkins; Chrome Deco Press. 196 pages. $13.95 softcover.