Book review: With Strings Attached, or The Big Pink Job

With Strings Attached, or The Big Pink Job
By Deborah Aviva Rothschild
Published by: Deborah Aviva Rothschild, 2009
Available for purchase at www.rationalmagic.com
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

While wandering through the dealers’ room at this year’s Fest for Beatles Fans at the Parsippany Hilton in March, I met a charming lady named Aviva Rothschild. She was selling copies of a book she had written, a privately published fanfic about the Beatles, along with homemade soap. I got two pieces of soap, shaped like a cat and an octopus, for free by buying the book, which was a big, pink tome. I wasn’t expecting anything other than your average piece of fanfic about my favorite British rock group, stretched to epic size. What I got was a lively romp that made “Magical Mystery Tour” look like an Afterschool Special. The author started this magnum opus 29 years ago and finally published it last year. I found it poignant that the story begins on April 11, 1980, eight months before John Lennon’s death in the real world. In this alternate universe of Ms. Rothschild’s, the Beatles are reunited on an alien world by a group of alien Beatle fans, who enjoy their music so much they want to thank them by giving them the gift of an adventure.

The adventure begins on the above date at 3:00 a.m. London time, with Paul McCartney sleeping peacefully with his wife Linda, while dreaming of sheep grazing in a pink field. But soon a giant hand brushes away the field and deposits Paul into a living room with a couple of comfy overstuffed chairs, a table full of snacks, and a wide-screen TV, which turns on as soon as he sits down and begins showing him scenes from various movies of men having adventures; cowboys and Indians, knights in armor, spacemen and so forth. This gets boring after a while, but there’s no remote, so Paul just has to put up with it until a shadowy humanoid figure materializes in the other chair and asks him how he likes the movie. After a short discussion about adventures, the alien gets Paul’s consent for him and his friends to send him on an adventure, and he proceeds to do so, after telling a stunned Paul that this is not a dream, but a “hypnagogic telepathic contact. It’s a lot less scary and intrusive when the subject is not used to telepathy…”

Shortly afterwards, Paul McCartney and John Lennon wake up on a grassy plain as younger versions of themselves, dressed in generic jeans and tee shirts, freshly shaven and shorn with their original Beatle haircuts, minus their wedding rings. Each of them suspects the other of having set him up in this bizarre scenario for a laugh; the ensuing dialog is painfully accurate, reflecting the hostility between the real John and Paul at the time. “This was one of Yoko’s little ‘instructions’, right?” an angry Paul says to John. “Don’t you have better sense than to do every daft thing she says? You take me home right bloody now or I’ll hit you with the biggest lawsuit you ever saw!” Poor John is as confused as he is. By the time the younger editions of George and Ringo join them (Ringo having been snatched from the set of “Caveman”, the movie he was making back then in Mexico, while George, newly converted to Hinduism, is convinced that he’s been sent on a mission by Krishna), it has finally sunken in that they are here, wherever here is, and they have to make the best of it. So all four of our lads from Liverpool, together again for the first time, go forth to explore this brave new world, which surely isn’t Earth.

It doesn’t take long for our lads to discover that the planet they’re on is called C’hou (pronounced cuh-HOW), where magic is as common as talent, and just as unequally distributed. The ruling class is a bunch of parasitic fascists who invaded and conquered the country years ago and now oppress the people with their phony religion because the symbol of the true religion, called the Vasyn, has been stolen by the local gods, disassembled and relocated in areas impossible to reach for ordinary mortals. That’s where our lads come in. One by one, they are given extraordinary magic powers—sometimes without even asking for them!—and gradually they learn what their mission is on this world: to recover the missing pieces of the Vasyn and put them back together.

Of course the lads like having magic powers, at first. But when it starts to sink in on them that their new talents could be quite a hindrance when they get back to their own world and their normal lives, well, that’s when disillusionment starts to set in, and their grand quest to save the world doesn’t seem so grand anymore. Sometimes they’re so busy fighting among themselves that they’re in more danger of beating each other up than they are of being beaten by the bad guys. It’s only when the bad guys start coming at them fast and furious to prevent them from recovering the Vasyn that the lads “come together” and start acting more like the Fab Four they used to be, one for all and all for one against the authority figures trying to keep them down.

Little do our lads know that their extraterrestrial fans are really a group of college students using them as subjects for their psych project, without their professors’ knowledge. After one timorous fan bows out because he’s a Goodie Two Shoes who can’t take the pressure of acting covertly, the remaining aliens, Varx and Shag (she’s a girl, but they’re both the same species, which seems to be part lizard and part bird), are forced to recruit an exchange student from another galaxy (who, from the brief description, seems to resemble a white slug) to help them continue their project. This geek(and I do mean geek, he makes Bill Gates look like a party animal)turns out to be a dedicated gamer, who decides to change the rules of the experiment behind the fans’ backs and put our lads into a perilous sword and sorcery adventure, starring one of his own most popular characters. Just when our lads have finally gotten the hang of their newfound powers, they find them being put to the test in the company of the most obnoxious swordsman you ever saw outside of Conan the Barbarian.

Dedicated Beatles fans everywhere will appreciate Aviva’s jaundiced view of gaming and the role of heroism in the modern world, as well as her realistic view of the Fab Four and how they would interact with each other after their split-up. Remember, despite their much vaunted musical talents, they were just four working class lads from Liverpool who got a lucky break when their music took off. That means they’re not quite as reverent toward traditional sword and sorcery tales as today’s generation. The Beatles were much too pragmatic to be swayed by mysticism—except for George, who became a Hindu because he craved spiritual values that he couldn’t find in Western religion. But even George was basically the same sensible, working class lad from Liverpool as the others, whose attitude toward their appointed task is more in the manner of “Let’s get this daft thing over with so we can go home” rather than “We must save these people to prove our moral superiority over the villains”. So they’re more anti-heroes than heroes. And they’re funny, too, even when they’re being stubborn, snotty, or downright stupid. In other words, our lads act like real people, not idealized heroes out of epic tales like “Lord of The Rings” or “Star Wars”.

This has got to be the best book of Beatles fiction I’ve read since “Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion” by Alan Goldsher, which I reviewed last year. Now that was a riot, the Beatles as zombies. Granted, most of the humor was dark, to the point of being gross at times, but a splendid time was had by all in the novel. I’d have to say the same for Aviva’s book. In fact, I’m looking forward to her latest reissue, in which she promises to include illustrations of the lads along with her original characters as well. To get a copy of this big, pink tome, just go to: www.rationalmagic.com/Strings/Strings.html
There you can either buy the book or read the half that’s online. Oh, by the way, the author is already working on a sequel. Let’s hope she has more luck publishing this one. And I hope you have as much fun reading “With Strings Attached” as I did. When you’ve finished the book, look her up on her Facebook fan page and let her know how much you liked it.

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