Reviewed by Geoff Nelder
The Garbage Man
by Joseph D’Lacey
ISBN: 9781905636471, May 2009
Back in the early 1970s I was one of the first school teachers of environmental science. Born as a hybrid from geography and biology, the subject my students studied involved them working on a farm, studying the weather, plotted global climate change and air pollution. They planted trees, and measured environmental features like rivers and air pollution. We wore masks, wellies and hardhats to visit Yorkshire’s largest landfill site. Those students had read Clive King’s Stig of the Dump (1964) and so has Joseph D’Lacey as evidenced by his homage by naming a landfill gateman as Stig.
While I taught those students my wife taught at Oldham’s Breezehill School, which hit the headlines when the pupils weren’t allowed onto their playing field. Why not? Because it was built on a completed landfill site and the anaerobic subterranean layers of soil and fermenting waste generated methane that bubbled up through to the playing fields above. Kids with matches enjoyed the phenomenon until the authorities stepped in. When we consider what is thrown into landfill sites, legally, illegally and damned strange it is surprising that new forms of life haven’t grown from the neo-primeval soup. That is what happens in The Garbage Man. Not just a horror story but a warning.
An additional ingredient to the mix of landfill chemicals is required to create gruesome creatures, and that is imagination. Joseph D’Lacey has imagination to the nth power, and uses it to generate this novel of disparate characters that are spun into a profound yarn. The giant test tube of the landfill produces creatures unseen before. Their use of garbage components gives them attributes not possible with purely organic beings and there is a moral imperative behind them suggesting they might inherit the Earth if…
Initially I worried that there were too many main characters, nine not including the fecalith: a sentient monster formed from both human and inhuman garbage, reclaiming the Earth from the waste-makers. Of the more human characters we have Richard, a family man struggling to combat his incipient paedophiliac urges. His is a potentially fascinating character but sadly that perverse aspect isn’t explored – maybe in another book. Mason Brand is a kind of Earth – Gaia hero in that he alone appreciates the awfulness of landfill but also the bio-power in the ecosystem. These characters live in their own sub-plots but it is the same town and so they interact sooner or later sometimes with unexpected consequences. The female characters are particularly intriguing and as three dimensional as you’d find in any great novel: Agatha, who with her preferred street name of Aggie is the only townsperson to escape. Being a teen beauty she made a spirited but brutal life as a model in the smoke, but she returned a wiser woman a few months later only to face the zombies. Which was worse, the city human S&M abusers or the small town landfill monsters?
This isn’t a zombie story. Well it is, but much more so. James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia (Earth as a superorganism) hypothesis will find much to appreciate in The Garbage Man, as will any reader with ecological roots.
Taking the writing style beyond the ordinary, D’Lacey crafts phrases I wish I’d written. For example: ‘A crumbling farmhouse cupped in the palm of the land.’
Also: ‘…sky-written across the blue of his mind…’ and I know I’ve experienced Ray’s sensation when he ‘…made his feet walk to the bar while the rest of him seemed to stay in the beer garden.’
We have stylish writing serving up plates of horror and with gore for relish; who could ask for more? The title belittles the content – I would have called it Gaia’s Revenge.
About the reviewer: Geoff Nelder (61) one wife, 2 kids, lives in rural England within easy cycle rides of the Welsh mountains. One humorous thriller novel, Escaping Reality has been published, and his recent novel is a science fiction mystery, Exit, Pursued by Bee, published by Double Dragon Publishing. Other SF/F novels are hungry to be published following a minor deluge of humour, crime and horror short stories. Geoff is an editor for Adventure Books of Seattle, and is a publisher at BeWrite Books.