Band of Gypsys (novel)
Cover of Gollancz first edition
|Series||Bold As Love Sequence|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Midnight Lamp|
|Followed by||Rainbow Bridge|
In the last pages of Midnight Lamp a secret military test of the Neurobomb went live, and the altered-brain neuronauts died in the act of wiping out the planet’s reserves of fossil fuel. Like the bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the "A team event" seemed both horrific and benign. The latest US/Islamic conflict was over at a stroke, the terminal sickness of post-peak-oil mercifully cut short. No way back to "business as usual": now there must be a new world, a better world. Band of Gypsys opens, some months later, with a complete change of pace. Having failed to make terms with a corrupt and dangerous Westminster government, the Triumvirate are in Paris, conducting a mordant John and Yoko style, "bed-in" in protest against conditions in English labour camps. Ax gets some bad news. US President Fred Eiffrich, the man who "Banned the Bomb", is doomed: brought down by a cunningly manufactured scandal.
The hour is getting late. The rescue of Ax's family, held as hostages for his good behaviour, shows Ax and friends doing what they do best: extracting bloodless victory from a nasty situation. There's a festival at Reading, there's a clandestine mind/matter tech space programme in the basement of the Heads' Battersea HQ. The ideals of the Rock and Roll Reich are alien to a new, post-Crisis generation. The leaders of fashion are neo-feudalist dandy Jack Vries MP (secret chief of the secret police), and Toby Starborn, sinister young virtual artist. Ax 'n Sage 'n Fiorinda are outdated icons, corpses in the mouths of the bourgeoisie. When Ax and Sage are engulfed in the Lavoisier Massacre Scandal a moment's shocking loss of control precipitates disaster. The Triumvirate find themselves—like many English Royals before them—incarcerated. Once more they are forced to provide rock-star window-dressing for a reactionary and degenerate Green regime, but this time Ax Preston has no miraculous solutions. Locked away in the shadowy, haunted fortress of Wallingham House, the prisoners hear distant echoes of a new blitzkrieg. The Chinese, emerging from their own struggle with the Crisis years, are taking over in Central Asia. They are almost at the gates of Europe.
Unlike previous episodes, Band Of Gypsys can't easily be read as a stand alone. In Midnight Lamp the past, seen from a fresh angle, illuminated character and motivation. Now the past is all there is. A freezing garret in Montmartre, where the three enacted the miserable fate of England's former hedonistic consumers, turns out to have been the last glimpse of open sky, a viable future. Fiorinda's hopes of pregnancy fade, as she plods through the motions of her national sweetheart role. Ax and Sage see the life ahead of them as a dreadful imprisonment, long before Ax self-destructs. Finally we are facing the real, monstrous bulk of the evils Ax tried to combat, and it's too late: it was always too late. England was never going to be saved. It's relentless, claustrophobic stuff. Fans might have preferred the saga to end on the high note of Midnight Lamp. Yet this bleak downturn is as rich as ever in outrageous invention, black humour and acute social commentary—and true, on many levels, to what has gone before. Camelot moments do not endure, Ax told us at the start that he was bound to be defeated in the end. When a civilised country dies the first shocks may be exhilarating, even liberating, but then the grim symptoms appear in earnest, and there's no more dancing in the streets.
In 1969, Hendrix felt he had reached a dead end, and embarked on a major career change. It did him no good. His new band (Band Of Gypsys: the title of the novel honours Hendrix’s misspelling) didn’t last, and in a few months he was dead. The Rock and Roll Reich version ends differently, in passages of elegiac beauty and steely hope. An idealised England that never was cannot return, horror broods over the birth of a new world, but the Triumvirate are still standing, and la lutte continue.
The titles of all the novels in the Bold as Love Sequence are taken from songs by or works related to Jimi Hendrix.