The Unnoticeables: Inventive, disturbing, funny and a little sparse

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Unnoticeables by Robert BrockwayThe Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway

There was a lot I liked in Robert Brockway’s urban fantasy novel The Unnoticeables. Starting with the most superficial elements first, I loved this cover. Tor went ironic, giving The Unnoticeables a highly noticeable cover. It’s venom green, a mashup of gearwheel-eyed killer clowns, fractals, figure-ground images and spiky-Mohawked punks. It’s disturbing and kind of funny, thus the perfect cover for Brockways’s novel. The Unnoticeables is the first in a series.

The core idea of The Unnoticeables is inventive and scary. Beings of light called “angels” regulate the universe by reallocating energy. Angels are generally unhappy with how inefficiently humans utilize energy, due to our cumbersome program coding (for “coding” read “selves”). Angels really like to simplify that code and “solve” humans. Most of the time when this happens, the person is absorbed, and vanishes. The angel redirects the reclaimed energy to shift the trajectory of an asteroid heading for Mars or some other project. Sometimes, though, a human’s base code is so tangled that they can’t be completely solved. When that happens, you get two things: the “tar men,” inhuman figures that look like they’re made of used motor oil and whose touch burns like acid, and The Empty Ones. The Empty Ones look like us, but there is nothing human left inside them. Because of this, human brains can’t process them, and our minds skate over their presence. They can become unnoticeable.

The story follows two timelines with two first-person narrators, and the sections alternate. In 1977, in New York City, Carey is part of the nascent punk scene. He and his group pick fights, go to clubs and drink beer. Carey sees a tar man kill one of his friends, and then Carey’s friends start disappearing.

The Vicious Circuit

THE VICIOUS CIRCUIT

In 2013, Kaitlin, an aspiring stunt-worker in LA, sees an angel outside her apartment. It isn’t the first time she has seen one. Soon she is fighting for her life against the Empty Ones, with a surprising ally, an old punk named Carey.

I loved the energy of the punk portion of the story. The danger and suspense are visceral, and in between attacks and escapes, Brockway captures a feral joy in the lifestyle. Carey and his friend Marshall punch each other for fun; they start fights and run away from fights; they’re like adolescent males in a baboon troop and it feels completely natural. Carey treats the few women in the group like ambulatory scaffolding for breasts; it’s completely plausible and totally within his character. He’s not always honorable, and sometimes he’s despicable, but he is always believable and there is a weird kind of punk nobility about him and his friends.

My favorite character in The Unnoticeables does not get a lot of page-time, but he’s a fascinating guy. His name is Sammy Six. To say anything more is to venture into spoiler-land, but I loved Sammy.

I was not as happy with Kaitlin or her story. Kaitlin is a big bundle of missed opportunities. She just wasn’t a convincing character. Kaitlin may be someone who is drowning in denial; the story should show us that. The way it reads now, the two particular things about her that are vital to the story (the first time she saw an angel and something about her body), seem to come and go as needed.  While it’s clear that the physical issue she has is needed for the plot, it isn’t clear why her parents didn’t have it surgically addressed at her birth. Most parents would have. Instead of developing her character, Brockway gave her a collection of random coffee mugs with slogans, which we get to hear each time she serves someone a beverage. Kaitlin, who has had more real trauma in her life than Carey did, is bland, and thus the Hollywood part of the story seems pale and repetitive when compared to the New York segments.

I think Brockway skimped on the backstory, and those gaps show up the most in this part of the tale. With another 25 pages, The Unnoticeables would still barely break 300, and the information we need would probably not ruin surprises in the upcoming books. Kaitlin, then, might look less like a plot device and more like a damaged person who is still a fighter.

All right, yes, I will admit that I thought “Marco Luis” as the B-list celebrity who used to be on a teen TV show called Saved by the — I mean Home Room, was funny. I did.

There was a gap in the punk section of the book, and it made me unhappy. I was originally going to write, “The punk storyline lacked music.” This would not be exactly accurate. Brockway diligently name-checks the required punk bands — the Ramones, Johnny Rotten, and so on. Carey and his friends are often just leaving or just entering a club. What’s missing is the musicality of the punk scene. In 1977, when you walked up to the door of a hole-in-the-wall punk club, could you hear the bass through the door? What did it sound like? What did the guitars sound like? Brockway gives us musicality only once:

An echo, a scratch, a hiss. Then opening chords to MC5’s “Sister Anne” banged around our living room like a drunken hippo trying to find his way to bed.

At least it’s sound. I could have used more of a soundtrack to Carey’s life, mainly because the punk sound was a very big deal.

Kaitlin is a problem for me, but I loved the energy of two-thirds of The Unnoticeables, I loved the set-up and I definitely want to read the next book in the series. I hope Kaitlin will grow; and I already see that Brockway can write. I’m looking forward to that second book already.

~Marion Deeds


The Unnoticeables by Robert BrockwayFunny, horrifying, and generally well-written. The character of Kaitlyn is a little thin and could use some fleshing-out beyond funny coffee mugs, her obsession with her bed, and fragments of a backstory, but her punk-rock counterpart Carey swaggers and punches with gusto. The core concept of Unnoticeables, Empty Ones, and creatures that may or may not be angels seeking out and destroying specific members of humanity is an intriguing one, especially near the end, when certain revelations are made. The Unnoticeables is a good beginning to what is sure to be an entertaining trilogy.

~Jana Nyman

Publication date: July 7, 2015. From Robert Brockway, Sr. Editor and Columnist of Cracked.com comes The Unnoticeables, a funny and frightening urban fantasy. There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns and remove the redundancies, and the problem that is “you” gets solved. Carey doesn’t much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching strange kids with unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn’t care about the rumors of tar-monsters in the sewers or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene–all he wants is to drink cheap beer and dispense ass-kickings. Kaitlyn isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there’s an angel outside her apartment. Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left. There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It’s up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands. We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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2 comments

  1. I’ve read some of Brockway’s short fiction, and it’s obvious that the man has talent. If he can tighten up his characters and broaden his descriptions, which I hope will come with time and experience, he’ll become one of my must-reads.

  2. He just replied on Twitter that he hopes some of these issues will be addressed in the second book. I am confident that he can do it, because he has such a vivid imagination.

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