(Cosmos Books, $15.00, 123 pages, paperback, published May 2003.)
Originally an Ansible E-dition, Wholly Smokes, John Sladek's
swan-song, is now
available in a form you can persuade your local bookshop to stock. It
comprises a whistle-stop (barely) fictional history of General Snuff
and Tobacco, the Badcock family's tobacco empire. From its founding
in the 17th century, GST survives the Great Fire of London, the American
Civil War and the Hindenberg disaster, only to fall foul of its own
There are wry chuckles a-plenty to be had here, but in the first half
of Wholly Smokes they're spread quite thinly amid a more gentle
kind of humour, with the tobacco-related misadventures of the Badcock
family influencing historical events. It isn't until GST's history hits
the 20th century that Sladek's satire really starts to bite -- the tobacco
industry's relationship with the medical establishment and tobacco advertising
strategies provide rich comedy pickings. And it's comedy as black as
a smoker's lungs, reaching its piece de resistance in Dwight Badcock's
"Puff Love" campaign, a piece of corporate tomfoolery that wouldn't
look out of place in Naomi Klein's No Logo. That's the beauty
of this sort of satire -- the real world goes most of the way itself;
all the satirist needs to do is give it that final push.
The faux history is entertaining enough, but Wholly Smokes is
really worth having for the wicked grotesquerie of its final chapters.
Placed alongside contemporary works of the Jennifer Government
variety, Wholly Smokes can comfortably hold its own.
Review by John Toon.
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