Review by Ian Keogh
Drones is one of those books you shouldn’t judge by the cover, which is an exploitative portrait, but well enough drawn by Ramon Villalobos. That doesn’t apply to Bruno Oliveira’s unimaginative internal art. While it improves slightly from first page to last, the starting page isn’t high on the quality scale. Sketchy misproportioned people and little in the way of backgrounds are par for the course, and the improvement never exceeds a level of functional storytelling.
That’s important, because Chris Lewis’ plot hardly prioritises clarity, so needed a better artist to ensure readers understand what’s going on. Lani and Stinger are drone operators. Based in Las Vegas, their spycams can ensure the accurate targeting of drone-delivered bombs in Afghanistan. If they’re working properly, that is. Also in Las Vegas is a terrorism-themed hotel where fantasies can be lived out in stage shows and live experiences, but what happens when fantasy and reality converge?
War reformatted as entertainment is a grim thought, but not a concept without potential. However, poor creative choices suck the life from Drones. The reader will rarely have a grip on what’s happening, and a standard technique is for Lewis to add to the cast with another bunch of eccentrics or fall back on the revelation of someone not being as they seem. A slapstick rush is intended and there’s no mistaking Drones as satirical, but the undertones are offensive. Even allowing for most Afghans seen here being terrorists, there are constant jokes in poor taste about poverty, sexual predilections and beliefs. If the idea of a sexual re-enactment of the notorious Abu Ghraib pyramids strikes as hilarious, there’s plenty more along the same lines.
What Drones seems to be aiming for is the sort of satire pulled off so successfully by Mel Brooks with The Producers. The film it most brings to mind, though, is notorious late 1970s bellyflop 1941, possibly Stephen Spielberg’s only career mistake. There’s a similar sense of so much frantic action unsuccessful in disguising how little there is beneath.