Book Review : Seb Doubinsky - The Babylonian Trilogy (2009)
The word "Babylon" is often associated with wealth and decadence. What was once the greatest city in the world has been reduced to a form of colloquialism. So much, it's become difficult to represent what it once meant. Speculative fiction author and architect of the most intricate imaginary cities Seb Doubinsky has been writing about what once was a city of the stature New York has nowadays. His Babylonian Trilogy is both an incursion in human history and a deep dive in its what ifs. It's the next best thing to actually visiting the legendary city.
Doubinsky's Babylonian Trilogy is split in three novellas: The Birth of Television According to Buddah, Yellow Bull and The Gardens of Babylon. The first introduces a series of characters through a series of short moments that feature war, greedy media and a narrator that may or may not be omniscient. The second is a more straightforward mystery where police commissioner Georg Ratner is trying to catch a serial killer with a kink for the beautiful and the third and final book hits the street of Babylon again, through the eyes of characters seeking a way out of there.
The first question one would ask after reading The Babylonian Trilogy is: what the fuck? What is it all supposed to mean? And no one would call you a dunce for thinking that because it's by far Seb Doubinsky's most cryptic and fragmented book. Babylon is a stand-in for the contemporary "super city" in there: New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Shanghai, wherever consumerism, media, crime and war (all interdependent variables) have grown out of control. It's a city, but it's also a state of mind, which keeps the people trapped in a self-destructive cycle that blinds them to whatever might lie outside of its confines.
So, one could say The Babylonian Trilogy is a novel-but-not-really-a-novel about the self-destructive nature of consumerism. Now, it's neither the first or the last novel to claim this. Authors have been warning people about consumerism since the 60s, but where The Babylonian Trilogy is unique and... well, prescient is... it's form. This clipped, disjointed and iconoclastic presentation that echoes a Facebook newsfeed and how we consume information in this day and age. While we understand our own mess, it's another game when someone else shuffles the cards for us. This was written in 2009, in the infancy of algorithmic distribution, so there's a great deal of foresight in there.
The Babylonian Trilogy was an interesting challenge. The short snippets are quite fun and user-friendly, but they're really dots you have to connect together to paint an impressionist portrait of kaleidoscopic modern living. In other words, it seems like an easy enough book, but it deconstructs that idea along the way, which is not uncommon territory for Seb Doubinsky. If you're not familiar with his work, it might not be the best place to start with as he eschewed straightforward storytelling, but you're looking to challenge yourself, it's a book that'll actually work with you and let you unlock the layers if you work hard enough.