RICK DeMARINIS – A Clod of Wayward Marl. Dennis McMillan, hardcover, 2001. Introduction By James Crumley.

   Guido Tarkenen is a crime writer. He writes what his agent calls ‘trash for cash’. But he does alright. He’s having a bit of writer’s block lately, though. So to pay the bills he takes a job as ‘visiting writer in residence’ in the English department at La Siberia Tech (apparently a nod to University of Texas–El Paso). The remaindered hardcover edition I read had a beautiful gold embossed La Siberia Tech emblem on its cover page.

   The students are terrible, and he hates the job. But he needs it while he comes up with an idea for his next book. So he drinks a lot to make it through the day, filling his office fridge with bottles of Tsingtao bought by the case.

   His wife just left him, contributing to the general malaise. But there’s a decent looking older student, Doris, that he hooks up with, to assuage his bruised and shattered libido.

   Doris’s hubbie owns a tech company affiliated with the university. Some of the professors, working with the company, have invented these amazing virtual reality body suits that you can wear and make your dreams real. He and Doris have amazing VR sex on the wings of a jet as it flies thru the skies, the passengers’ mouths agape to see such sport.

   Thing is, this VR invention is going to be HUGE. And professor inventions are, by contract, owned by La Siberia Tech unless in the public domain.

   So a multinational tech company based in Singapore decides to buy La Siberia Tech to get the patents to the VR technology and make a fortune.

   They’ve decided to scrap accreditation and get rid of the English department—replacing it with a Department of Dream Architecture to serve Cybertopia:

The World is Your Oyster!

   “Interact with the world as you never would have dreamed possible! Want to know what it feels like to fly into outer space? Want to feel moon dust under your feet? Would you like to speak, face to face, with famous figures in history? Imagine yourself taking tea with Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine, or, in our era, Gandhi, Einstein, or Marilyn Monroe! Do your tastes lean toward the dark side? Imagine confronting a mugger, disarming him, and giving him the beating of his life! Think how it must feel to electrocute, hang, or lethally inject a murderer! Perhaps, because you have always wanted to know what really goes on in the mind of a criminal, you might even temporarily adopt his psyche. How does one bring oneself to do heinous deeds? Where does the impulse come from to commit murder, torture, rape, cannibalism? In the private confines of Cybertopia, you can discover this terra incognita first-hand. Of course, you may just want to create your own world, safe and secure from all the woes and terrors of contemporary society. Be the king or queen of your own country, then populate it with adoring subjects! Would you ever want to disengage from such a paradise? Cybertopia can give you all this, and much more. Its possibilities are limited only by your imagination. And in that regard, our machines will come with software designed by “Dream Architects”—writers and artists—who will create worlds and situations within those worlds that all but the most jaded will find exciting and rewarding.”

   Guido becomes more and more unsure if the experiences he’s having are real or whether he’s still got the VR suit on. The reader has the same Philip K. Dickensian disorientation.

   Many of the professors don’t like the idea of scrapping liberal arts and accreditation, so they plot to sabotage the corporate takeover by putting their research into the public domain before the deal is done.

   But this VR technology is projected to be a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. And the tech multinational will stop at nothing to keep the intellectual property in their hands—even murder.

   Guido, sodden with drink, gets sucked into a role as de facto detective when the professorial murders get too close for comfort. He sloppily traverses this minefield to hilarious satisfaction.

   If you’re a fan of Crumley, this is a must read. I immediately went out and bought a bunch more of Demarinis and other Dennis McMillan stuff I hadn’t heard of before. A Clod of Wayward Marl is really great. It gave me hope that there’s other great relatively recent stuff out there bringing the hardboiled imagination into the 21st century. That there’s a way to think and live in the contemporary world that traverses the general shitty-ness with anarchic aplomb and joy. My favorite thing I’ve read in as long as I can remember.