Commissioned by Games Workshop in the late 80s and early 90s the Dark Future quartet, of Demon Download, Krokodil Tears, Comeback Tour and Route 666 are set in the Nottingham based games company's post apocalyptic near future setting, all written by SF's worst kept secret Jack Yeovil (aka Kim Newman). The sequence as published goes: Demon Download, Krokodil Tears, Comeback Tour, Route 666, but I would the chronological order of the books is this: Route 666, Krokodil Tears then Demon Download and finally Comeback Tour, if you want to read the sequence of events in chronological order (it's not necessary to do so but at the same time, I know some readers like to).
It isn't clear from the novels what sort of disaster has befallen the world to throw it into such horrific and ridiculous state of affairs but it obviously draws from horror, cyberpunk (both in culture and technology, and the immense influence of Japan) and a number of other genres, mashing them all up into a dark, crunchy set of stories where the world has gone seriously off kilter.
I'm uncertain how much of the history detailed in the books is Yeovil's own creation and how much came out of the minds of Games Workshop's writers but from the very outset you know that we're not in Kansas any more. This is a world where the space race was more aggressive, where Rock and Roll died a death when Elvis Presley went back into the army and Oliver North lucks his way into being President of the USA. The Soviet Union shows no sign of slowing down, even if Yeovil successfully predicts that he'll be President (a feat he repeats with Drew Barrymore's success in film. The forces of law and order have all but given up, leaving freelance police known as Sanctioned Operatives, to hunt down, and in many cases, kill criminals, with a particular emphasis on gangcults, a series of paramilitary organisations that have taken over large parts of the country, driving it into chaos and despair. These range from ultra right wing groups like the Confederate Air Force (CAF) to the Daughters of the Revolution, a strange group of girl gangsters who dress like First Wives, to the teenage rebellion that is the Psychopomps gang, a set of teenage girls who idolise Russian music idols, engage in lesbianism and seem to catch the spirit of the Punk, Grunge or Riot Grrrl scenes down to the expectation to live fast and die young (pretty corpse optional). The line between the line between the Sanctioned Operatives and the Gangcults they hunt seems quite blurred, and in Comeback Tour the line is almost non-existent in the form of the Good Old Boys, who are really just another wing of the CAF.
Against this hellish world we find the Josephites, a religious sect with similar origins to the Mormons, setting up home in Salt Lake City and growing ever stranger and more sinister with each book. They are the prime movers for the evil that stalks the setting (and also provide the only hint of the overlap with the Warhammer universes, in that Tzeentch is mentioned as one of the Dark Ones that the leader of the Josephite church, Nyugen Seth serves) shown to have resources and strange powers at their disposal and to be willing to use them. One of the great disappointments of the novels for me is that there's never any great explanation for some of the things that the Josephites undergo; why for instance do their bodies become more like dolls, losing their genitalia and even nipples? It's a nice touch that shows how strange and deviant (if I may call it that) their religion is but it would be nice to know the workings that lie behind the transformations.
Taking a long view across the novels, all of them are fine works of fiction that do a good job of being an entertaining read and it's hard to say fairer than that about gaming fiction (let's face it G.W. aren't going for high literature here, and thank goodness for that). These are pulpy stories, designed to be read for fun and nothing more. The only deep meaning in them would seem to be, 'when you dine with the Devil, use a long spoon'.
As a result we're treated to a cavalcade of dead authors (in what I suspect is an updated scene from the original version of Demon Download, a number of Kim's, erm I mean Jack's friends being killed by a mad member of the US Cavalry), movie references, in the form of what seems to be a Silence of the Lambs reference in the form of Ottokar Proctor, a serial killer genius, and in the form of the motel at the start of Krokodil Tears which is more than a blatant hat tip to Psycho. Beyond that Yeovil lets his imagination run riot, throwing in all sorts of wonderful things that are dark and nasty to spice up both world and plot. Oh and lots and lots of love for Elvis.
Each novel deals with an attempt by the Josephites to usher in the end of days in some regard, either by using a demon computer programme that loves to play with machines, summoning a dark god to fight a showdown with a teenage cyborg girl or triggering a laser weapon in space. I don't suppose that I'm giving away too much to say that they fail (it would difficult to have a series if they didn't) and that the protagonists seem to be chosen by fate to oppose them.
Taken as they are there's precious little I can find about them that's negative. They aren't high art, but they don't pretend to be and the references come less thick and fast than in Newman's other books but that may be a blessing, as there's less to catch up with or go hunting for (I don't mind doing this, but must admit that I'm waiting for Jess Nevins to start doing Anno Dracula guides in the same way as he crowd sources information for the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books). If I were to have a complaint, its that there doesn't seem to be enough here, so much is left cloudy and the sense of there being an eventual end to the series where answers are revealed seems to have been lost.
My other complaint is probably more to do with my understanding of the text than anything Yeovil intended. There's part of Krokodil Tears that states the identities of the other warriors, doing it in such a way that it suggested that there would be a team up and that the small band of warriors would take the fight to Seth in Salt Lake City. The novels don't deliver this and I'm not sure if this is my reading the situation wrong or if further novels were planned and various plans were unable to be fulfilled. All I will say is that meeting between Krokodil and Sister Chantal would have been glorious to read, just as I would have enjoyed Elvis meeting Aaron Stack. Ah well, perhaps the non Yeovil novels continue the trend and I just need to explore them a little more (though I think I'll do so through the library).