Andrew Weiner,
Getting Near the End
(Red Deer, 2004)

I first became aware of Toronto science-fiction writer Andrew Weiner through his taut, clever short fiction, collected under the title Distant Signals & Other Stories (Tesseract Books, 1989). Ursula K. Le Guin chose the title story for inclusion in The Norton Book of Science Fiction and Orson Scott Card bought the story "Klein's Machine" for his Future on Ice anthology -- prestigious sales that spoke to the quality of Weiner's writing.

Then, early this year I finally got around to reading Weiner's debut novel, Station Gehenna, published in 1987. I found the book disappointing, the prose simplistic, the characters flat. So it was with a degree of anxiety that I opened Getting Near the End, Weiner's second novel.

Getting Near the End began life as a short story back in 1981 -- it's included in Distant Signals -- and the core elements of the tale remain intact. The book's climactic evening may no longer take place on New Year's Eve, 2000, but the millennial atmosphere of Martha Nova's final concert remains. Weiner now links the apocalyptic mood of his imagined future to the Mayan calendar and places the concert scene in 2023.

Nova, around whom the events in Getting Near the End swirl, is a singer with a special gift. Her lyrics seem to foretell catastrophic events, calamities that are coming to define her age. Was her "Seattle Song" in fact a presage of the devastating blaze that consumed 10 city blocks? Did the song "Masked Man" predict the assassination of U.S. Senator Ralph McWhurter -- "See the masked man in the mirror/Chilly Colorado day ... Watching him smile/in the lens of the camera/sight of the rifle." Martha's legions of fans and, to an increasing extent, government officials from MentHealth, believe that what Martha sings will come to be. So MentHealth wants her silenced, for the good of the nation.

Interestingly, Weiner chooses not to employ Martha Nova as his viewpoint character. Instead he tells her story from the perspectives of a handful of secondary players. Robert Duke, the aging rocker who headlines Martha's first tour and becomes her lover; Abe Levett, Martha's first manager; Jake Denning, the astronaut who makes it back from Mars; and Kevin Moore, a dedicated fan, one of the Nova Children, provide the windows onto the events in Getting Near the End. This distancing technique is extremely effective in maintaining a diffused, mysterious portrait of Martha Nova throughout the novel.

Weiner also paints a credible picture of the future of the music industry, a business in crisis, but one that remains resplendent in its ego-driven excesses. His past experience in the music business, writing articles for such markets as New Musical Express, British Cream and The Story of Pop help make Getting Near the End a most convincing a piece of rock fiction, the best I've read since Lewis Shiner's wonderful book Say Goodbye. Both Shiner and Weiner succeed in a particularly challenging aspect of writing about fictional rock stars, the creation of lyrics that read as lyrics rather than as inept sci-fi poetry.

About my only complaint with the structure of this book is that Jake Denning's portion of the story, the trip to Mars, with its extreme physical and psychological demands, isn't more fully explored. Particularly in the early stages of the novel, the Mars mission seems peripheral to the main thrust of the plotline. I would have liked Martha's son, Daniel, or perhaps Kevin Moore, to be fascinated by the space mission so that Denning and his fellow astronauts could be viewed from another angle. However, this minor complaint aside, Getting Near the End is a most enjoyable read and one hopes that there isn't another 17-year lull before Andrew Weiner's next novel.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 15 January 2005

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