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Damnation for Beginners by Alan Campbell

Admirable artwork for Damnation for Beginners by Ian McQue


It’s a part of being human that our bonnets can sometimes be invaded by bees. After all, these pesky insects fly around and, if you believe accredited sources like Killer Bees, can be directed to infiltrate the gardens, homes and articles of clothing worn by “enemies”. So the appearance of something with a loud buzz and a suicidal sting in close proximity to the more sensitive bits of your head is usually disconcerting and something you want to tell all your readers about the next time you have their undivided attention. In Damnation for Beginners (Subterranean Press, 2012), it’s obvious that Alan Campbell has had a minor disagreement with the bank holding his current account or possibly a credit card company. This has left him with an entirely natural desire to strike back at perceived injustices caused by the imposition of high interest rates and unexpected charges. Indeed, there’s even a hint of paranoia that, such is the power of the larger banks to buy the best legal brains to represent them in court, they have effectively bought the legal system with judges easily swayed by the arguments of those with the deepest pockets.


Like Alan Campbell, my own history has been coloured by events from the past. My mother was frightened by Franz Kafka’s view of the world and took every possible precaution to prevent my turning into a bee(tle), or any other insect for that matter. Being a proponent of the scientific method, she would read passages from Treasure Island. She naturally hoped I would develop a wooden leg. She followed this linguistic attack on my motive system by reading How Invertebrates Regenerate Lost Limbs. In this way my human leg would return and I was able to maintain physical (if not a credit) balance when walking. As a result, I have complete control over my body and its movement, maintaining it as fully human simply by the power of my will. Reading this novella confirms my mother’s use of books to train the mind was justified as Alan Campbell introduces us to a labyrinthine banking system designed to milk the world of every last penny and leave the survivors in penury unless, of course, their souls can be traded to Hell for the profit of the bank. Kafka, if not my mother, would have approved of such rampant capitalism as a means of destroying humanity.

Alan Campbell affecting the casually hirsute look


I make no secret of the fact that I’m blessed with a vicious streak, so I enjoy extended and savage attacks on the major institutions of the world when they are conducted with real style and wit. Sadly, what we have here is mere ranting, and mere ranting becomes tedious after three or four pages. As you will gather from the title, we’re all doomed to burn in Hell simply because banks are allowed to exist and prey upon us. Indeed, our lives are so bad it’s almost as if we’re already in Hell or perhaps Hell itself is directing the operation of the financial industry. I suppose there’s some ingenuity in the story when our hero decides that, having lost everything important to him, the only thing to do is take his complaint to Hell — it’s the only place you can ever really get anything done even if your name does prove to be Sisyphus.


Perhaps, if my milk of kindness level was slightly closer to the runneth over point, I might offer the opinion that Alan Campbell is an author offering us an extended parable on the nature of greed. In these days of moral hazard, bankers have sacrificed their principles in pursuit of excessive wealth and power. This story captures the apotheosis of greed as a sin, elevating it to the truly diabolical. With a lighter touch, I would have been cheering him on. But the result is so humourless that I struggled to finish it. Having finished it, however, I discovered the joke is in the last line which makes it a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records for the longest text before a punchline. Damnation for Beginners actually fits into Alan Campbell’s Deepgate Codex series. If you enjoyed any of those books, this novella is more of the same. If you have not previously tried Alan Campbell, this is not a good place to start.


As we’ve come to expect from Subterranean Press, this is a beautiful production with pleasure jacket artwork from Ian McQue and the text overflowing with really nice interior illustrations by Bob Eggleton.


A copy of this book was sent to me for review.


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