It is, in many ways, the sort of book I'm always looking for—a glorious mess; a jangly, spit-and-duct-tape creation that you can feel shaking itself to pieces even as you read; a visionary head-trip of apocalyptic political satire; a kitchen sink quest story that reads like someone's high school RPG session gone full-on Technicolor bonkers ... I love the abuse of footnotes. I love the story-within-a-story set-up. I love the opportunity it offers for multi-layered satire. It rarely works, (and it doesn't always work here), but when it does, FKA USA becomes like Rudy Rucker writing The Handmaid's Tale. It's an irradiated, poisoned, oppressive dystopia, sure, but that doesn't mean we can't all have a little fun along the way, right? ... This is a weird, loud, violent, funny, profane journey across the blasted ruin of our future from the first word to the last, that never pretends to be anything else. And if you aren't interested in the ride, that's fine. That just means more goats and robots for the rest of us.
... nothing short of a big surprise in a genre where so many dystopic novels fail because they simply rearrange the same old post-apocalyptic elements without creating any new meaning from them ... Those familiar background paradigms are there in mind-numbing abundance, practically choking every page. In fact, their effects are as thick as the toxin-permeated air that King predicts most of North America will be breathing by the late 21st century ... King makes it strangely compelling by concocting a barely credible mission that can only be accomplished by traveling great distances through unsafe territory. And he assembles such a messed-up crew of characters to do it that you keep on reading just to see how badly they’ll fail. To add more uncertainty to the effort, only two of the four are human ... behind more than 400 pages of energetic, witty and grotesquely picturesque writing, the scariest thing is that King really 'knows the stuff' in all the areas where a country that once led the free world could come apart at the seams. Some folks, from within and without, fear that’s already happening.
FKA USA is exhausting. Instead of telling a story, the author packs every page with as many convoluted world-building references and one-liners as possible. It feels less like a novel and more like a movie treatment crowdsourced by studio executives, who then passed the writing off to one of their teenage nephews ... the 'jokes' are more Adam Sandler than George Saunders ... the truth is—despite a great cover and a clever premise—there are Wikipedia pages more narratively compelling than FKA USA. The map on the endpapers is the best part of the book.
It’s a Road novel...with all the shocks and adventures of the genre ... Mr. King looks at all our upcoming problems, and imagines a local reaction to each one. The result is often funny, usually sardonic and always imaginative, what with all the mole rats, flesh drones, dimeheads, and especially 'The Grifter’s Guide to the Territories FKA USA,' a notable addition to the line of imaginary authorities.
[A] cunning debut ... the author generously provides maps and appendices to add context to the outrageous story. Readers who like their apocalyptic fiction with a hearty serving of weird will want to jump on board for this wild ride.
Whether Reed King’s FKA USA works for you is going to depend on who you are as a reader. To some extent, this is true of any book in the world, but it’s particularly true for this book, a sprawling, self-conscious novel of the American apocalypse inspired by equal parts David Foster Wallace and The Wizard of Oz. Some will find the reading experience exhilarating, while others will find it tiresome. Some will suspect that Reed King is punching way above his weight, while others won’t recognize (or care) that a heavier weight class exists. So it goes ... Even though the details are outlandish, the narrative is your basic group quest, and the journey has the usual encounters, setbacks, danger, and joy ... The same goes for the prose and characterization. There’s nothing terribly new or exciting there; the prose is clean and transparent, if unnecessarily vulgar, and the characters are well-delineated without having any motivations that disrupt the main purpose of propping up Truckee. Extensive, detailed footnotes line many of the pages, and the book has six fictional appendices. These quirks, plus the corporatism, plus the main character’s name, call back to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, but King is not nearly as skilled as Wallace at literary pretension, and King’s footnotes feel like unnecessary interruptions to proffer information we didn’t really need to know ... Occasionally, the book shows heart ... However, these moments are few and far between. For the most part, the book is snide, dirty, and hopeless ... is clearly intended as satire, in mood and style, but it is so reasonably apocalyptic, so painfully close to the bleakest projections of what the late-21st century will look like (if we survive), that the net effect is depressing ... Perhaps those who love Philip K. Dick, but want more jokes per capita, will have a ball with FKA USA, but those who are truly worried about the future of this planet, of this political system, of this very species, may find it hard to crack a smile.
King, the novel’s pseudonymous author, takes infectious joy in his imagined world; its impressive layers are the best reason to read the book. FKA USA is riddled with footnotes and digressions and interludes and commentaries. This avalanche of minutiae makes it feel as if King is talking at us more than telling us a story, however, and the storyline, already on the wispy side, soon suffocates ... If taken less as a novel than as an encyclopedia of an imagined future, FKA USA has a lot to offer ... For such a futuristic world, though, FKA USA’s sexual politics are decidedly retrograde. Women are either lavishly hot or grotesquely unattractive ... Richly textured but curiously shapeless, FKA USA is a wander through a strange and fascinating future, nudged along by weak currents of story.
This book is quite strange but eminently readable and kinetic in a manner that mashes up pop culture, video game tropes, apocalyptic visions, and a meaningful nod to the peculiar humor of Douglas Adams ... There’s a plot here somewhere, something to do with a search for immortality, but Truckee’s epic journey is brimming with so many fantastic characters, so much outlandish imagery, and odd little tics like footnotes and selections from a book called The Grifter’s Guide to the Territories FKA USA that readers who are into semicomical fantasy novels will find plenty to like regardless of how it all turns out ... epically concocted.
Uneven worldbuilding makes this dull, sprawling postapocalyptic picaresque a bit of a mess; the blend of mayhem and farce never gels ... King throws out head-scratching references to a Second Civil War having been caused by the First Lady’s legs ... He also blithely uses mass disasters as fodder for jokes. This dreary slog isn’t worth the effort.