Strungballs, by Mike Russell is a weird and wacky novella with a unique view on society and humanity.
Strungballs follows the main character, Sydney, a ten-year-old boy who loves strungballs (red balls placed into your body via holes made by removing your flesh) as they are a physical indicator of those who have done good. Sydney lives in a world where people live in rooms numbered 1-999, they all live to serve the strungball centred society and to do so is to be good. Having just received his first strungball, Sydney is ecstatic and wants to be good by working in advertising for the strungballs. However, Sydney then meets Albert. Albert has tried to live without strungballs – a terrible thing that turns you into an ‘other’, a monster, but could not. This starts to get Sydney thinking about strungballs and why they are needed. Sydney eventually removes his own and escapes through the sphere of flesh (a protective wall made from hat is removed to place the strungballs) only to realise the truth about the strungballs and his world.
This was definitely a weird novella, with the second half being substantially stranger than the first. However, it was unique and he world Russell has built is definitely a pure sci-fi oddity. I appreciated how the story starts with characters who behave more or less as though they are mind controlled, referring to each other as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ and behaving only in ways that are deemed good. The development of this which turns into a break of consciousness, led by Sydney, was interesting as it let the reader question what is true. Do we as humans only have ourselves to fear? and should we be afraid of asking why? Ultimately it appears that to be able to ask why and embrace our fears is what it means to be free, to be happy and to be whole.
The characters are, intentionally, one dimensional and are inherently creepy, until the resolution. Having the child be the one to break the consciousness that has become the consensus and the norm was clever and allowed insight into the determination and individuality of children before society can mould them. Following the characters on this short journey was definitely an experience and to watch the development of the plot and the acceptance of humanity and its fears in such an abstract way was intriguing. This surreal take on society and our tendency to band together is definitely a thought-provoking read.
This weird and wacky novella is perfect for sci-fi lovers who prefer abstract storytelling and strong societal themes.
If you are looking for a short, but thought provoking read then this is definitely for you.
Thanks to Jay at Strangebooks for the review (e-book) copy of Strungballs by Mike Russell in exchange for my honest review.