Kings of the New Age Book One: The Quest of the Balancing Stones
By Nathan Bell
Independently published, 2021
Available from amazon.com
Kings of the New Age is the debut novel by Muloobinba/Newcastle-based author and musician Nathan Bell. The book is set in the author’s home town.
The story is set in a not-too-distant post-apocalyptic future where a nuclear war has decimated the northern hemisphere. Australia has collapsed into chaos, with most of the continent ungoverned and controlled by competing gangs and warlords. Refugees from the northern hemisphere live in squalor in crowded refugee camps. Radioactive ash blows around in the wind, giving people respiratory diseases and making them prone to death by sudden severe illness.
Muloobinba has fallen under the control of a bikie dictatorship (the Kings) whose despotic rule is hated by the people.
The book explores two parallel, interconnected narratives: One is essentially a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the bikie dictatorship and restore some form of democracy, and the other follows a mystical quest to fulfill an ancient prophecy and help heal the Earth from the nuclear fallout.
This second thread seeks to connect to New Age folklore, including local variations on this theme, such as the mythology around the so-called Gosford Glyphs.
Some readers who prefer their political post-apocalyptic fiction served dry may not find the content — complete with astral traveling and miracles — to their liking. They may even feel this quite substantial part of the book is leading readers up a garden path to unscientific intrigues that distract from properly grounded left-wing politics.
However, while Bell is clearly interested in these beliefs, he also set out to write a book that is both political and entertaining. The exploration of New Age and mystical subject matter reminds the reader that this is a fictional work, and to sit back and enjoy the ride.
In fusing a people's uprising against a quasi state with New Age notions, the novel could be accessible and interesting to people immersed in a more mystical worldview, making those readers familiar with left-wing ideas.
This contrasts with the range of mystical conspiracy content out there that draws such readers toward more reactionary tropes. (For example, the “illuminati” content that draws heavily from the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion and related reactionary texts.)
Without being crudely derivative, Kings of the New Age features some fantastic scenes that evoke memories of famous 1980’s and ‘90’s action films.
There’s a battle scene that wouldn't be out of place in a James Bond or Die Hard film. There are Mad Max-style outback action scenes depicting shoot outs amongst fortified frankenstein vehicles. There is a spectacular Blues Brothers-tinged chase scene where a hijacked vehicle smashes through a well-known Newcastle shopping centre on its way to deliver weapons to the rebel alliance. There are giant creatures reminiscent of Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
There are also spiritual quest moments, like something you might find in Karate Kid, Star Wars or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Cult Novocastrian folk hero "Shock" — aka serial pest Peter Hore — makes a cameo appearance, which I found amusing and appropriate.
Kings of the New Age is part of a new trend of “on-demand” online publishing and distribution of books, which has allowed new authors like Bell to distribute their work without getting a publishing deal.
While the book has a few minor imperfections owing to its "garage" DIY publishing provenance, Kings of the New Age is an excellent read, and has developed quite a following. On top of being a garage publisher, Bell is also a musician, working with Ezekiel Ox and others at Rely-Ability studios in the suburb of Tighes Hill.
Speaking with Green Left Radio on 3CR, Bell said he is investigating the possibility of having the book turned into a screenplay. He also wants to add two more novels to the series.
Bell told Green Left Radio the book is a warning about nuclear war. "My art has always been very fixated on nuclear war because I believe it is a very real threat. I think a lot of people don’t know how to even begin thinking about the prospect of nuclear war. I believe it is one of the biggest threats to our species.”
The novel provides a glimpse of a grim future to be avoided at all costs. Yet it also speaks to the emergence of solidarity in times of trouble. The portrayal of the complex subterfuge and daring risk-taking involved in plotting and then executing an armed uprising against a dictatorship is compelling. Kings of the New Age is well worth a read.
[Kings of the New Age can be purchased at amazon.com. Bell also regularly sells copies of the book as well as his music and made-to-order clothing designs in Darby Street, Muloobinba/Newcastle.]