While the work of Warren Ellis is not for everyone, you should sample it at the very least. Ellis is primarily known for his contributions as an author working in the graphic novel genre, both in company-owned work and such creator projects as Transmetropolitan. The latter is a dystopian classic, in which literally every panel is important and what is happening in the background can be as crucial as what is occuring in the foreground. Ellis has shown a particular affinity for exploring dystopian and steampunk topics as a launching pad for his graphic work. So it is that GUN MACHINE, his second foray into the world of text novels (following the critically acclaimed CROOKED LITTLE VEIN), is shot through with a subtle decay, a sense of the world unraveling even as it staggers ever forward.
"What is...impressive about GUN MACHINE...is the subtle genius with which Ellis pokes and prods things, looking at cutting-edge technology not so much from its front end but from the back, treating what is left in its wake to an unblinking and frightening evaluation."
While the world might stagger, Ellis’s prose explodes from the page. It begins violently. New York detective John Tallow is called to a disturbance involving a mentally disturbed apartment tenant who has gone homicidal following the receipt of an eviction notice. Things end tragically; the post-crime scene investigation inadvertently uncovers a mystery that reverberates far beyond a dingy apartment hallway. The puzzle is an apartment with multiple security locks that contains nothing but firearms. It is subsequently determined that the guns within the rooms have been used in hundreds of unsolved homicides dating back more than 20 years. The discovery makes Tallow less than popular up and down the police food chain, given that the NYPD has more than enough current business to keep it busy without dredging up all but forgotten (albeit open) cases that have lain fallow for decades.
Still, Tallow is driven, even though he is emotionally weary, worn down by the tragedies he has experienced on the job. His efforts to get things moving on the investigation are priceless, particularly his initial meeting with the foul-mouthed Scarly and the semi-insane Bat of the NYPD Crime Scene Unit. However, there are people outside of the police department who are as equally, if not more, displeased with Tallow’s findings. Andrew Machen, the CEO of Vivicy, which is the new owner of the decrepit building where the guns were discovered --- and whose eviction notices inadvertently set off the chain reaction of events leading to Tallow’s discovery --- has much to hide and more to do.
The investigation upsets Machen’s carefully crafted timetable for acquiring the building, destroying it, and erecting a new one in its place. His reason for doing this, as crafted by Ellis, is pure genius, which is one of the reasons why Ellis’s dystopian work is such a joy to read: the reader can see that what the author is describing isn’t just inevitable, it’s already happening. Then, of course, there is the question of how those mysterious guns got where they were to begin with. Someone put them there, and that “someone” --- known only as “the hunter” --- is on Tallow’s trail. Oh, and he is working indirectly for someone as well. Tallow has really stepped in it, so to speak, but doesn’t even stop to wipe his shoes. He is determined to find out what is going on, even as he threatens to collapse under the weight of his own ennui.
If you haven’t read Ellis before, you’re in for a…well, “treat” isn’t the right word, unless you love the sensation of your hackles rising. I do. What is even more impressive about GUN MACHINE is the subtle genius with which Ellis pokes and prods things, looking at cutting-edge technology not so much from its front end but from the back, treating what is left in its wake to an unblinking and frightening evaluation. This is an absolute must-read, back-to-the-wall work.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 8, 2013