Rock Paper Tiger is pretty great

by Ben

I haven’t read a book this good since “Snow Crash.” I’ll take a gander that it has something to do with a similar present-tense “I don’t give a two-penny slutfuck” writing style and a shameless ability to arrest my intrigue with lines like “we fucked until Trey came and I felt like my butt was bruised from the busted springs in the bedframe. I didn’t come, and neither one of us did anything about that.” It’s a political indie-art thriller with military undertones and a slight bit of conspiracy just to make it more fantastic. And, quite honestly, it’s like nothing I’ve read before.

Every book or piece of media I’ve ever encountered which centers on China has either been an overblown Clancy-esque bore or a snoozefest with political slogans and leftist bullshit. With “Rock Paper Tiger,” it doesn’t matter what you think. Hell, you can think China is Babylon and Lisa Brackmann will still make you listen to what she has to say. I’ll go one step further and say Brackmann takes Neal Stephenson’s prototype and produces a sleek, finished product of sheer literary brilliance. And I’m still talking about the writing style.

Narrative-and-plot-wise, “Rock Paper Tiger” is about Ellie, an expat with an inner monologue more sophisticated than Patrick Bateman. And before you stop reading because I said “expat,” I’ll reinforce that this book can be as much or as little about politics as you’d like. As the least politically-motivated Westernised human being alive, I’d say that I wrote off any jabs at Chinese government as subtle plot queues and continued about my merry way. But if you want it to be about politics, I’m sure you’ll be more than satisfied.

Since nothing besides my genitalia is perfect, I do have a few nits to pick. First, Brackmann’s choice in character names is fucking lame. Trey? Really? For an important male character? Every asswipe Starbucks writer names their pseudo-antagonists Trey, and every one of their screenplays or short stories is garbage. Ellie is one step above “Tiffany” or “Britney,” I suppose, but I still rolled my eyes. Supplementary titles like “Kyle” and “John” really started to piss me off when those particular characters cropped up. Try a baby name website next time.

Second, and I might as well be a good guy and state there’s some minor spoilers ahead, the bit with the online game is aggravating and pointless. I understand the necessity of meeting in anonymous zones not patrolled by government snoops, but the way these segments are penned it seems the author hasn’t played a video game since EverQuest -and then only briefly. They are boring, annoying, and it seems there could have been a superior narrative device for conveying the required plot points.

Lastly, the book wraps up too fast. It’s all on-the-go, mile-a-minute, hurry-the-fuck-up-and-turn-the-page action, but in the last twenty pages everything is tied off neatly -at a loss for the previous 324 pages. I’m not disparaging the conclusion, because that part fits well within the grand construction, but the way it’s paced out was irritating, as if the final twenty pages needed expansion to sixty or seventy. Perhaps she ran out of time? Who knows.

But really, the above complaints are minor bitchings next to how successful this book really is. The character is deep and thoughtful, but in a contemporary-age sort of way and not at all abrasive. The story is highly interesting and kept me, the most ADD-prone reader of all time, hooked for the entire span. With the exception of the aforementioned gaming scenes, “Rock Paper Tiger” is A+ material from start to finish. Unless you’re a prude, an old lady who is offended by the use of “fuck,” or a clueless dumbass with the artistic sense of an infant, it’s impossible not to enjoy this book.

Conclusion: Do yourself a favor and read the book. Plus, you’ll seem sophisticated at parties when you are able to debate the Chinese art scene with those two hot Norwegian Babes. Seriously, the book comes with a Get Laid guarantee*

*No such guarantee exists