Review & Giveaway! Concrete Operational by Richard Galbraith

This is a really special review and giveaway!  Concrete Operational is a collaborative media project — a novel, art book and music cd — wrapped up in a fascinating package, each complementing the others.  At the end of this post, there will be a chance to win a copy of the full set, so read a bit about the project and then sign up to win.

First, the novel.  Society has taken our obsession with celebrities to the extreme: no one cares about talent or accomplishment, they only care about being famous.  What they are famous for doesn’t matter; all that matters is that they’re famous.  Sound at all familiar?  The celebrities themselves are willing captives of the machine.  They have handlers, they are kept enclosed, separated from the people around them, only brought out to perform for the crowds.

But one man is not willing.  Germany Germany was raised by a sort of separatist group, away from the crush of the crowds, by people who wanted to learn new things, set goals to accomplish, and maybe save some small part of the world from itself.  He is eventually sucked into the machine, his strange upbringing and the tragedy that followed making him an instant celebrity.  But he retains his memories — of his family, of his father’s goals, of the young woman he loved — and he is determined to make a difference in the world around him.

It’s a caricature of our (possible) future, blown all out of proportion.  Language is important — its power and precision.  And it is very easy to draw parallels between today’s celebrities (often famous for nothing more than being famous) and the horrors of the world of Germany Germany.

All that said, the book is a little raw; a good editor could do wonders.  If I see someone refer to “bear hands,” I expect fur and claws.  “Baron lands” should have a castle and perhaps a baroness, and while I love the concept of “his cloak bellowing behind him,” I don’t think it’s quite what the author had in mind.  I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at some of the classroom discussions in the first section of the book — a lot of sound and fury that didn’t really say much to me.  But I enjoyed the novel and was definitely interested in seeing where Galbraith would take the story.

Part 2 is the art book, a slender volume of work by various artists, each on a theme and presented with quotes from the novel that relate.  It’s a small format, soft-cover, perhaps not the best way to view some of this work, but I found Tori Treasure’s paintings (theme: Love) quite beautiful and I really liked some of Benjamin Phillips’ works on Madness.

Part 3 is the music.  The 5 songs on the cd have a variety of styles and artists, drawing on the themes of the book.  I loved Send in the Birds by Akira and Hey Hey My Head by Dan Dunne and the Reels.  Interesting to listen to it after reading the novel, as the music brought back different parts of the story.

This is quite an ambitious undertaking!  Even if I didn’t find it completely successful, I applaud the writers, artists, and musicians involved.  One of the things that I think publishing technology will do for us is to bring us more projects like this, integrated stories, songs and artwork, combined and intertwined in different ways. For more on the project, check out their website, Operation Concrete.

Now, I promised you a giveaway, didn’t I?  Richard Galbraith was kind enough to send me a complete set — novel, art book and cd, nicely packaged — to give to one lucky winner.  I will ship this anywhere in the US, Canada and the Netherlands, a little beyond my usual range, but I hope to see some of my pals to the north (or the folks at my company’s Amsterdam office) get a chance at winning.  Use the form in this post to sign up (I need your name and email).  If you mention this on your blog, website, Twitter feed or Facebook page, I’ll give you an additional entry (just put a note in the comments on the entry form).   The contest will run through midnight, Friday November 26th, so you’ve got time to spread the word.   Good luck!

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