The best feedback to my latest novel, published in July? A mate said it was like The Catcher in the Rye — for girls. I can certainly live with that.
But this is also a yarn that additionally throws in a murder mystery, a sprinkling of gothic horror, surrealism, and dialogue heavily influenced by both Raymond Chandler and Angela Carter. I’m hardly claiming the strength and agility of any of these — yet there you go.
One of the things I like to do in my books is lob in hundreds of additional nods and the occasional homage to things I dig and cherish, or that may have had a role in developing my peculiar psyche.
Some of this fodder is just plain obscure, and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is no stranger to these things.
I’m therefore going to skim the surface here, in order to give prospective readers a vague idea of what to expect in the book between the lines — and if you have read it, these tarnished nuggets may add flavour.
For starters, the old truck in which Mina hitches a ride — a World War Two era, canvas-backed General Motors lorry — featured in The Great Escape. It has the license plate ‘JJZ-109’, which was the number plate on Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. Hip-hop DJ Clive Campbell is a direct reference to DJ Kool Herc (same real name), considered by many to be the ‘father’ of hip-hop.
Much of the new novel focus on music, especially that created in the 1980s. When creating character names, I couldn’t resist the winks. Margaret’s boyfriend Danny Murphy is an amalgam of Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, the singer and guitarist from British gothic rock band Bauhaus, while Mina’s form teacher Roslyn Williams spins out of Rozz Williams, who formed American band Christian Death in 1979. Glenda Matlock, the school counsellor, comes from Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistols’ original bass player before Sid Vicious joined the band. Police constables Copeland and Andie Summers are based on members of The Police — the band — namely Stewart Copeland (drums) and Andy Summers (guitar).
English Lit. teacher Jim Osterberg is derived from the real name of Iggy Pop (James Osterberg) and Mina’s missing school mate Candie Delmar riffs off Candy del Mar — a bass player with the Cramps from 1986-1991. Art teacher Victoria Perks is based on Vickie Perks from Fuzzbox, Dr. Christopher Stein at the hospital is named in honour of Blondie founding member Chris Stein, while Dr. Marissa Stirpe is a tweak on Marisa Stirpe, a member of Aussie indie band Thrush & the Cunts.
And then there’s this: “On the brass plaque outside the entrance were three physicians’ names, all apparently shrinks: Dr. Lyman Sanderson, Dr. William Chumley, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush and Dr. Pamela Pearl.” Dr. Lyman Sanderson and Dr. William Chumley were psychiatrists at the sanatorium in the James Stewart movie Harvey (1950) — a big influence on Mina’s imaginary friend Animeid. Pamela Pearl was one of the two teenage girls being treated for mental illness in the film Times Square (1980) — while her redheaded secretary Nicky Marotta references the other main protagonist from that movie. Finally, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush is Groucho Marx’s veterinarian character in A Day at the Races (1937).
But wait — there’s tons more.
When Mina “hands the woman one of Dad’s prize, antique Kobayashi Porcelain china cups, a set he never allowed anyone to use”, it’s a ref to the brand of cup iconic in The Usual Suspects. The Lovmee shoes that Mina wears to a relative’s funeral are from a cheesy footwear advertisement in Blonde Phantom #22 (Timely Comics, March 1949), while ‘Birrarung’ is an old Aboriginal name for the Yarra River in Melbourne. WJAD FM is the name of the radio station in the punk-rock oriented movie Times Square, while the bar Angelika and Mina first go to is the Fat Black Pussycat — actually a famous 1950s/60s jazz club in Melbourne.
In the Brigantine cafe (itself a take on the real-life Galleon in St. Kilda), Mina says: “I choose a red triangle since it’s the smallest and will go best with my hair — the other triangle is canary yellow — and the table is configured like a letter ‘A’.” This is a minor-league reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), when Hester Prynne has been found guilty of adultery and must wear a scarlet ‘A’ — with the ‘A’ being a symbol of adultery and affair — on her dress.
Nick goes to Blamey University — bouncing off the real life Monash Uni in Melbourne (named after the famous Australian First World War military commander). So I decided to conjure up Blamey Uni, named in honour of Thomas Blamey, an Australian general of the First and Second World Wars, and the only Australian ever to attain the rank of field marshal. Bethlem Royal Hospice, where Mina goes to see Pamela Pearl, is based on Bethlem Royal Hospital in London — the world’s oldest institution specializing in the mentally ill, which started admitting unbalanced patients in 1357. As an indication of what a house of horrors Bethlem Royal Hospital was, the word ‘bedlam’ is derived from its name.
Science fiction gets a shoo-in as well.
Ice Planet Goth bounces out of Ice Planet Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back (Mina also wears an Empire Strikes Back t-shirt) while the Alpha Aquilae star system is the location of Altair IV in Forbidden Planet. The primitive Krell on Ice Planet Goth are named after the super-intelligent, extinct race — again in Forbidden Planet. The colours of the spacesuits are modelled after the colours used in the 1960s series of Star Trek. Commanders wearing green/gold, engineering and security wearing red, and science/medical staff wear blue. Friedrich Lang Space Centre is named in honour of pioneering Austrian movie writer/director Friedrich ‘Fritz’ Lang.
There are quotes here from Jack Kirby’s iconic heroine Vera Gentry in his ‘70s comic book version of 2001: A Space Odyssey (#2, January 1977). When Angelika (on the space ship) says: “Nothing exciting to flap over… I’m going out for another check — over and out,” she’s directly channelling Vera. Sarah and Mina do likewise.
While we’re on the issue of comic books, which play an important role in the character development of Mina and the settings here, there are nips and tucks from 1960s Avengers comics, and especially golden age 1940s romps like Bulletman (with Bulletgirl) alongside Miss Fury.
There are little things, like “an 8 mm Bell & Howell Zoomatic movie camera on a low table”, which was the camera used by Abraham Zapruder to film the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The Auto-Ordnance M1911A1 .45 ACP revolver at the beginning of the novel is modelled on the Colt 1911, and the screen gun used by Vincent (John Travolta) in Pulp Fiction — while the polished nickel 9mm Star Model B pistols Mina finds, towards the end of the story, in her father’s safe? …The very same one hit man Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) carries also in Pulp Fiction.
Chapter titles also have meaning here, though some of them hang oddball even after explanation (sorry!). C57-D predates T-47? C57-D is the name of the spaceship in Forbidden Planet. T-47 is the name of the modified civilian craft better known as snowspeeders used on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. 40 tossed in 146 times? The Bible uses 40 to denote completion or fulfilment. It is used 146 times throughout both old and new testaments. Version 1611, Part 1 of 10? Sourced from the original preface to the King James Bible.
But there’s also overt symbolism thrown between the lines too.
Like the white lilies on Sarah’s red bikini — in certain cultures, associated with funerals and placed on gravestones, since these are inferred to represent purity of the soul and eternal life. It’s also said that lilies used to appear on the graves of individuals wrongly executed for crimes that they didn’t commit. Mina’s uncle Damiel Rapace might be based on Bruno Gantz’s guardian angel character Damiel in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987), but the town Dam lives in — Subere — is Erebus reversed: In Greek literature the name Erebus is also used to refer to a region of the Greek underworld where the dead had to pass immediately after dying.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s family name is Murray — a reference to Mina’s maiden name in Bram Stoker’s Dracula — and Nicole’s family name is Milton, her father John — author of Paradise Lost. Makes sense, then, that John’s wife should be called Eve. Clair René is named after René Clair, the French filmmaker who directed I Married a Witch (1942), while it’s pretty obvious that Hannah Satana pokes fun at Hannah Montana. But Satana also comes from the half-demon Marvel Comics character that first appeared in Vampire Tales #2 in October 1973, created by Roy Thomas and John Romita.
And — finally — then there’s the spirituality. I admit to being hardly a fan of organized religion, probably since I studied the history of the Christianizing of Europe while at university. Both Calvinism and Catholicism come in for some flak in the pages of this novel — although I’m not purposely targeting them as much as I am the nature of some people who manipulate their practices to malicious ends. Hence a lot of the underlying other references.
Angelika’s home is full of these. ‘Portinari’ is also the name of Dante’s girlfriend Beatrice. The three steps at her home edge toward the three steps at the foot of the gate to Purgatory proper — an allegory for the Sacrament of Penance. The picture on wall, “a three-master sailing ship cutting through a raging, stormy endless ocean.” — reflects Dante’s journey through Purgatory, which is constantly described as a ship cutting through water. The statue near the door? The guardian angel that stands before the gate to Purgatory holds a sword. The angel also holds two keys: The silver key, which “needs much art and skill before it will unlock,” represents the complex art of judging and passing sentence on a sinner. Indeed, the name of the keys reflects this importance; they are the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven.”
Pakistani brothers Gad and Raz Shaytan: Gadriel, aka Azazel, is understood as the name of a fallen angel or demon. Rahu (Raz) is a master of deception who signifies cheaters, pleasure seekers, insincere and immoral acts, etc, etc. In popular Islamic culture, ‘Shaytan’ is often simply translated as the Devil, but the term can refer to any of the jinn who disobeyed God and followed Iblīs.
Mac.Duagh Girls’ High School is named with reference to Saint Colman mac Duagh, an Irish saint from the 6th and 7th centuries, while Caellainn Girls Grammar School is named for Irish saint St. Caellainn, also called Caoilfionn, who died in the 6th century. Amand’s (the department store) is named after Saint Amandus, the patron saint of merchants, beer brewers and innkeepers. Even the Mawes Bar — a riff on a Mars Bar chocolate treat, of course — refers to 6th century Welsh saint St. Mawes.
Pellegrino’s Espresso Bar in the city is named after Pellegrini’s (an existing place of repute) and Saint Peregrine (a.k.a. Pellegrino) Laziosi (1260-1345), an Italian saint of the Servite Order (Friar Order Servants of Mary). He’s the patron saint for persons suffering illness.
The hospital Mina goes to is called Kentigern Regional Hospital. Saint Mungo is the commonly used name for Saint Kentigern — the patron saint against bullies and verbal abuse.
On the road sign posts there are the place names Tyre and Sidon. These were famous in the ancient Near East and important cities in the Old and New Testaments. Both are now located in Lebanon. Nod is the town east of Eden where Cain settled after God punished him for the murder of his brother, Abel.
In the police station there are “a couple of wanted posters stuck to the wall with mug shots, their names (Simon Peter and James Zebedee), and the Crime Stompers number beneath.” Which refers to Simon Peter, aka St. Peter, and James the son of Zebedee, members of the Twelve Apostles (shhh).
And the meaning of the seven ‘P’s on the pole outside Deveroli’s cafe? I guess representing the seven Ps carved onto Dante’s forehead to represent seven instances of ‘peccatum’, the Italian word for sin or wound. That they’re engraved on Dante’s brow at the entrance of Purgatory makes it pretty clear that they’re an allegory for the journey through each of Purgatory’s seven terraces.
But the seven ‘P’s is also a British Army adage for Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth is available from Perfect Edge Books (ISBN: 978-1782796497).
Bergen has worked as a journalist over the past 17 years for newspapers such as The Age in Australia and the Yomiuri Shimbun in Japan, and he’s written for magazines as diverse as Mixmag, Geek Monthly, Impact and Anime Insider.
His novels include Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, and Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth. To learn more about Andrez, visit his website.