A Clockwork Chancer

For talking openly about the spoilers from Black Library fiction.

A Clockwork Chancer

Postby He2etic » Tue Aug 02, 2011 4:23 pm

Better known as "The Last Orange" or... "How I stopped Lasting and Learned to Love the Orange."

Ahhh, Gav Thorpe's The Last Chancers series. The one book of my not unimpressive Black Library selection that I return to tirelessly. What's interesting about all the books in my series is that most of the Space Marines novels have been very read-and-forget. But the Imperial Guard series, at least the older ones, I have returned too again and again because of themes and ideas within them.

Why so? What is it about the struggles of convicted murderer Lieutenant Kage that makes him so amazing to read and even reread? I have read the book no less than three times, and I will probably read it again. But it was in my outside the Black Library readings (yes, I read other things) that I found the answer. The usual hub bub we hear is that The Last Chancers was based on the film The Dirty Dozen. And the theme and the idea of the Last Chancers undoubtedly is so. But the book was only half about the Last Chancers, the other half really being about Lieutenant Kage himself. The answer as it turned out, was because Lieutenant Kage was based on.... this guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuy:
Yes my droogs, it is indeed so. Elements of Anthony Burgress' A Clockwork Orange found their way into Thorpe's writing.

How, one may ask? Well, to do this we have to look at some of the writing, themes and borrowed ideas, big and small, from the book. Yes, book, not so much the movie. In all fairness, Kubrick did a decent job making the story solely about Alex himself, but there were larger themes that may have been forgotten in the translations from words to picture.

Let's start with one aspect of the Last Chancers against one Clockwork Orange. The central theme of CO is man against himself. The Last Chancers mostly avoided this until the end, but touched upon it several times briefly. Think about it: The primary antagonist of every story was a xeno. The first, it was a Tyranid genestealer infection influencing the population of a city. The second? The Tau. And the third were Orks. Although there was plenty of infighting, the Last Chancers were pitted against an external threat and combated something that most of humanity would unarguably deem 'bad.' And that was the greater threat.

But it was in the end that this collapsed. Kage, being a secret psyker, succumbed to a daemon who had possessed him. Daemons, as any raving 40k fan would tell you, are primarily a psychic reflection of mankind's (and maybe a few other races) emotions upon the immaterium. Being the raw stuff of Chaos, it is here that we at last come face to face with the decisions and internal conflict of man. That has always been the core of the 40k universe: The aliens and monsters out there are merely the fantasy elements of the universe, while at the beating heart it is ourselves we fight against. The struggle, both internally and externally against our good vs evil instincts whose pinnacle moment (thus far) is defined as the Horus Heresy.

Kage is an Emperor fearing soldier with a nasty temper. His crime? Murdering his sergeant over a woman, a nasty crime that, followed by murdering a few Mordians post-release. Still he has gone out of his way more than a couple of times to destroy the enemies of the Emperor even though it went against what was best for him at the time. All along, it was the promise of redemption at the hands of Schaefer that kept him in line, even beyond the first book when Kage earned and then immediately lost his salvation. Kage could have killed the Colonel or left him to die many times, but he did not- even when the Colonel told him he was beyond help.

While Kage might be described as something like more good than evil, Alex seems far more the reverse. Alex takes to beating and raping people in the night with his friends- for fun. Finding anything good about Alex is difficult, but there are a few decent things about him. For one, Alex looked after his parents, giving them his ill-gotten money. Two is that Alex oddly took after the Bible with earnest, if for no other reason than to escape the prison life with the violent tales in its earlier sections. And yet, despite all that occurs, Alex admits he knows that what he does is wrong, "You can't have a society with everybody behaving in my manner of the night."

Now Alex does not get possessed by a Daemon who presses him to greater evil. Instead, he has greater good pressed into him using a method of aversion therapy called the Ludovico Technique. Oddly, both Kage and Alex are subjected to some form of experimentation in that Alex is strapped down and forced to watch movies, where as Kage has surgery forced upon him so that his exact nature is reveal (whether anything more was done besides discovering Kage was a Psyker is beyond me, there was some strange "dangerous gas build up" explanation added.)

Let's talk about the writing for a moment. At least two elements from Burgess found their way into Thorpe's writing style. The first was the unreliable narrator. Both Kage and Alex flipped and twisted at times. We had no more an idea what was going on than they did, and the narrators of course tried to come across as likeable despite their aversions to 'good' behavior. Another thing was the slang. Thorpe did not do this as Burgess did, a wise move because I spent an hour translating the first 10 pages of A Clockwork Orange's nadsat (the language used by teenagers in the book.) For Thorpe to do the same, he would have turned off too many fans and of course, there is already plenty of existing Guard slang. But a few words were bent a bit, never losing their original meaning but also not really appearing anywhere else in the 40k universe. It's pretty obvious what 'Medico' means, but I've not seen it in any other 40k. Although there maybe American-English editing that explains this?

But the lasting bit that connects A Clockwork Orange to the Last Chancers is the question of man's will and the choice. For the LC, it was an evolving question: In the first book, Kage won his salvation, then promptly lost it. In the second, Schaefer touched upon the concept of 'a choice' that Kage had to make, but that choice was not realized until the third book. A realization, metanoia, that connected Kage's faith to his actions that resulted in his choice to throw his life away on the altar of the Golden Throne.

But it is the reverse that is true of OC, where the choice was ultimately taken away from Alex. He could not choose evil, even when he was confronted with it. His sacrifice was not his choice, but to be a martyr to the state's idea of an ideal man, their clockwork orange. He was beaten and nearly killed by his former victims. Some might see a dark justice in this and I do not disagree. But the choice was robbed of Alex where as it was made clear to Kage after so much struggle.

In a way, it is like C.S. Lewis once said, in that a man does not realize how bad he is until he tries very hard to be good.
Last edited by He2etic on Tue Aug 02, 2011 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Clockwork Chancer

Postby Xisor » Tue Aug 02, 2011 6:12 pm

Intriguing stuff. I don't entirely agree on the closeness of the parallels, but nevertheless, it's a very compelling comparison straight off the bat. It'd also help if I'd read CO, but that's also beside the point.

What's the point then, hmm?

The point is: I'd have went with The Last Orange for the thread title. :lol:
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Re: A Clockwork Chancer

Postby He2etic » Tue Aug 02, 2011 7:06 pm

Hahahah! Or... "How I Stopped Lasting and Learned to Love the Orange."
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