Review: George R.R. Martin, The Armageddon Rag (sf novel)

Alan P. Scott - Rants - Reviews


The following review was published in Marshall University's student newspaper, The Parthenon, Friday, March 8, 1985. This version has been only slightly edited.

The place names are pure music legend: Woodstock, Altamont, Monterey, West Mesa...

West Mesa?

It is Sept. 20, 1971. The Nazgul, premier rock group of the 1960s, are performing on West Mesa near Albuquerque in front of 60,000 fans when a high-powered rifle bullet rips out the life of Patrick Henry "Hobbit" Hobbins, the Nazgul's lead singer. He dies instantly, and the 60s die with him.

The Armageddon Rag begins 10 years or so later, in the decade foreshadowed by Orwell. The three surviving Nazgul have long since sunk into their separate obscurities.

Sandy Blair, aging ex-rebel and sometime reporter for the aging ex-rebel magazine Hedgehog, is asked to write an article for "da hog" on the bizarre sacrificial murder of Jamie Lynch, the man who had all those years ago served as the Nazgul's manager. Blair's writing career is deadlocked, and his lover can't understand his nostalgia for the 60s, but he agrees to write the article, and the enigmas Blair uncovers tie Lynch's death ever more firmly to the Nazgul and to the shadowy figure who is now trying to effect the group's comeback. Sandy's search for explanations leads him across the continent into the remnants of a 60s counterculture and closer to someone who wants to revive the Nazgul whatever the cost.

Blair travels from one coast to the other tracking down the rest of the Nazgul: Gopher John, Rick Maggio and Peter Faxon. Along the way he encounters both old friends and old enemies, and sees a cross-section of what remains of the 60s: Froggy, the professor who still can't get tenure; Bambi, who has given up on civilization entirely; Slum, whose prison is no less real for being insubstantial; Maggie, who is drifting; and Lark, who is the most successful and hence perhaps the saddest of all.

There appears to the author to be no way of reconciling life in the 80s with retaining one's ideals - one either compromises, like Froggy or Maggie, conforms like Lark, or withdraws like Bambi.

There is tremendous empathy, however, for all these people. And Martin's unique blend of fantasy and reality lends his characters a great deal of credibility.

The pace of the novel quickens as the Nazgul are reborn, and as something - perhaps the spirit of the 60s but perhaps something much more sinister - is reborn with them.

Music pervades the book as it pervaded the era. Martin's use of lyrics from real songs of the 60s emphatically conveys a sense of the time, and the music credits in fact run for six pages. His descriptions of the Nazgul's performances and his original lyrics for such Nazgul albums as Hot Wind Out Of Mordor and Music To Wake The Dead are tremendously vivid and realistic.

Martin's attention to detail, down to descriptions of the T-shirts sold at Nazgul concerts, adds an illusion of reality which becomes intensely surreal in the light of the magical events taking place.

The Armageddon Rag is a gripping read, well worth the price of admission to a show which will definitely "rock you till your ears bleed!"

©1985, 1999 Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

Last updated June 15, 2001.

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