Book Review: The Big Wheel by Scott Archer Jones
Jim Booth for Scott Archer Jones’s The Big Wheel is part cyberpunk dystopian thriller, part corporate espionage thriller. It’s also an interesting study of the search for identity.
The Big Wheel by Scott Archer Jones (image courtesy Goodreads)
Last year I reviewed Scott Archer Jones’s first novel Jupiter and Gilgamesh. A key theme I noted that made that novel of particular interest was its main character’s quest for his identity and the struggles he goes through to complete his quest.
Interestingly, that same theme pervades his second novel, The Big Wheel. That in itself might not be that noteworthy except that while Jupiter and Gilgamesh was clearly a work of literary fiction, The Big Wheel is a genre work, a techno-thriller with cyberpunk elements. But as with his previous novel, Jones explores issues of identity and understanding of the self, albeit in this latter case via a convoluted, almost Freudian version of the Jekyll and Hyde story. What makes The Big Wheel notable is not its well structured caper/chase narrative; what makes this novel notable is that theme of quest for identity.
The plot of The Big Wheel concerns the theft of a storage device (actually several storage devices). What differentiates one of these devices, however, from the others is that instead of the corporate secrets of a business mogul/politician named O’Brien, one device, a specially constructed cube, has allowed O’Brien to download and save his consciousness, perhaps his soul. The thief, one Robko Zlata, will remind one of a couple of characters, one Henry Case of Neuromancer, the other Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment. Zlata’s fascination with his craft and his belief that he can triumph over impossible odds aligns him with Raskolnikov; his damaged personality and his drug addictions will remind one of Case. Zlata’s theft of the “artifact,” as it’s called, unleashes a vast response from various of O’Brien’s tentacles: his standard security apparatus, his illegal private army, and his corporate raider division.
From that last group comes the novel’s other major protagonist, Thomas Steward. Steward is a character whose dedication to his career has left him in search of his own identity, much like the character Matt Devon in Jupiter and Gilgamesh. Steward is motivated in his pursuit of Zlata by different aims than the dutiful Garland, head of corporate security, or the murderous LeFarge, head of O’Brien’s private army. Steward realizes, as he begins to gather information about Zlata, that in order to catch up to the thief he has to learn how Zlata thinks, how he lives. In the pursuit of that information, Steward tries living like Zlata, even developing similar drug habits and affectations of dress and behavior. This behavior allows Steward to find Zlata, but it also brings him into conflict with the sociopathic LeFarge and the equally brutal O’Brien. The consequences are, as to be expected, in some cases bloody and horrific, in other cases left handedly merciful, but they eventually lead to a sort of rough justice for all the novel’s important characters.
For the insightful reader, further parallels between characters from Dostoyevsky, Gibson, and perhaps even Stevenson will reveal themselves, making The Big Wheel a richer, more rewarding reading experience than the typical techno-thriller or cyberpunk dystopian novel. Thomas Steward’s search for himself even as he searches for Robko Zlata reveals an essential truth that any great search narrative reveals: even as we search of the one we think our opposite, we find ourselves. As Baudelaire tells us, “Tu le connais…ce monstre délicat/…mon semblable, mon frère!” Scott Archer Jones reminds us that whether 19th century Russia or 21st century America, to know ourselves we often must come to know others.
Reviewed by Samantha Dewitt (Rivera)
For Robko, things are finally starting to get interesting. After all, he’s got a great new job that’s going to require working under pressure and a lot of danger. But when he finds himself in a situation that he couldn’t even have imagined as a result of the crime, who knows what he will do to get himself out of it. After all, it’s going to be difficult to figure out exactly what he can do with the new information he’s found without getting caught in the process. For Thomas, however, this is the opportunity he’s been waiting for to make himself indispensable to The Governor in The Big Wheel.
This book is definitely one that will hold your attention. It has some interesting characters, including Thomas and Robko as well as the Gray Man, Sibyl, and a lot more. I felt like I was able to really get to know these characters, even though there were a number of them. There was a lot of great adventure going on as well. This book really gripped me and seemed to bring up many different issues. Robko was a character that you couldn’t help but like, and he really got himself into some interesting situations, between getting away from Thomas, O’Brien, and more, and just surviving his own life. Of course, there are some surprises that you won’t expect as well. Like Dag and Jimmy. The Big Wheel by Scott Archer Jones is an interesting book and one that will keep you reading.
The world that Jones creates for the novel is fascinating, and, depending upon one’s view of immense corporate power and political corruption, quite believable. Murder and mayhem permeate the pages, interspersed with lots of humor, dark and otherwise, a Jones trademark. The reader is drawn into a series of murky settings and a tour of the recreational pharmaceutical universe.
The dialog sparkles, the descriptions are crisp, the pace quick and the writing superb. I found myself re-reading sections just to savor Jones’ wordplay. I was completely caught off guard at the end. A fun book. But you have to pay attention! Worth your time.