Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: Albion ! Albion !

Book Review: 'Albion ! Albion !' by Dick Morland




3 / 5 Stars

'Dick Morland' was one of several pseudonyms used by the British author Reginald Hill (1936 – 2012). Hill was a prolific author of crime fiction, with his ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ series of novels his best-known works. He did write novels in other genres, including thrillers, suspense, and sf – of which ‘Albion ! Albion !’ is an example.

‘Albion ! Albion !’ first was published in the UK in 1974; this Faber and Faber paperback (221 pp) was issued in 1986.

The novel is set in a near-future (i.e., the early 1990s) UK. Morland posits that the economic travails of the 70s have, in the 80s, led to further breakdown of the social order, leading to ever more violent battles between small armies of football hooligans, the retreat of law and order, and the rise of a new class of politicians whose allegiance is to the football Clubs of their districts. By the early 90s, England’s increasingly enfeebled legal and political systems have been entirely overthrown, and the nation is divided into four quadrants.

Each quadrant is governed by a different soccer Club: these are the United, City, Wanderers, and Athletic. Senior fans who came of age in the 70s and 80s are in charge of the Clubs, and rely on loose teams of hardcore hooligans, christened ‘Strikers’, to maintain order via brutal beatings..... and, frequently, murder........

Most of the cities of England are trash-strewn wastelands where no one ventures out after dark, save those with a penchant for mayhem. The rest of Europe has severed all ties with England, and, along with the US, look upon Britain as a sort of bizarre experiment in populism gone terribly wrong.

As ‘Albion ! Albion !’ opens, a young journalist named Whitey Singleton, who lives as a British expatriate in the US, is aboard a jet liner traveling from Tokyo to the Sudan. Singleton devotes many of his columns and essays to criticizing the state of affairs in his birthplace, hoping to persuade the US and the European Union to intervene and restore law and order to England.

Unfortunately for Whitey, his plane is hijacked and diverted to Heathrow. There he is recognized by the Athletic Strikers, who have little respect for his criticism of their social order. Whitey is placed under arrest, beaten up, and sent to prison.

With the realization that his American citizenship and journalist’s credentials do little to deter the actions of the Club, Whitey recognizes that he will have to act on his own to escape the prison and find some means of leaving England. This decision will force him to make alliances with the very people his columns have railed against. But as Whitey Singleton is to discover, his allies have their own plans for him……..and, as it turns out, the future of England………..

As a near-future sf novel with an offbeat, imaginative premise, by and large ‘Albion ! Albion !’ succeeds.

The initial chapters of the novel are the best, as the reader shares Whitey’s disbelief and bemusement in coming to grips with the bastardized, ‘hoolie-meets-droog ‘ civilization that rules England. Somewhat inevitably for a narrative written by a crime novelist, the middle chapters tend to belabor various political intrigues taking place among the Clubs, and there are quite a few contrived twists and turns and double-double-crosses. Things do regain potency in the final chapters, including some passages that prefigure the real-life disasters (i.e., Bradford and Hillsborough) that beset the UK soccer scene in the 80s.

Those with a fondness for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and other visions of a dystopian future UK are going to want to have their copy of ‘Albion ! Albion !’.

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