Atom by Steve Aylett
US: Paperback - 176 pages (October 30, 2000) Four Walls Eight Windows; ISBN: 1568581750 UK: Hardcover - Orion / Phoenix House in hard cover. ISBN1-861591-24-1
Review by John Berlyne 

The publisher blurb for "Atom" states that it's author Steve Aylett has built up quite a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic. (I often wonder exactly what "cult" status confers upon an author - does it mean that not a lot of people actually buy the books, but lots of people read
them?)

"Atom" is a short-sharp-shock of a novel. Only 137 pages long, it reads like a series of advertising culture buzzwords fired from a Howitzer. 

Aylett's writing has a comic-book feel to it, graphic and colorful but he sometimes tends to put his story on the back-burner in order to dazzle us with bizarre turns of phrase and tangential concepts. This makes his plot rather hard to summarize, but I'll give it a go...

Taffy Atom is a PI working in the sleazy futuristic city of Beerlight. He is approached by various parties after the local brain facility is raided by a Mafioso hireling. The burglar goes AWOL with head-gear of one Franz Kafka and everyone thinks Atom knows where to find the perp and the said head. Everyone in this case includes a one-eyed Godfather who thinks
nothing of shooting his chef for serving him a tomato for lunch; his various henchmen (the biggest and burliest of which goes by the name of Joanna), a fat man with a cod-English vocabulary who wants the brain in order to re-create himself in the image of Gregor Samsa; the sinister doctor who would carry out this macabre transplant and, of course the
Police, who are easily as bizarre as any of the preceding characters. See - I told you it was colorful!! 

To further illustrate what I mean here is a little quote from a scene where Atom and his fellows are holed up in a hotel and are called out by the Police who have been staking the joint out...

"There were eighty rooms in the Bird Street Hotel. Within each a tableau froze in surprise - grocers laminating the ears of a shuffling baby elephant, a clown tearing a crucifix from the neck of doubting priest, a sales demonstration of a cop-issue garroting bar, a rifle-point pie-eating contest, a faceless man manufacturing codeine ice cream in a thundering
drum, a dour meeting of a gun quitters' support group, a porcelain dog screaming muted and inarticulate, lovers acting out an alien abduction ...etc" He keeps this list up for quite some time.

Outlandish and grotesque though it often is, "Atom" is entertaining for all that. What it lacks in substance it makes up for with effect and with "Atom" Aylett no doubt adds another title to his canon keep the cult fans happy.