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Empire Of The Sun
By Phil Thornton
Children Of The Sun by Max Schaefer is perhaps the best novel about gay Nazi skinheads I've ever read. OK, that's a pretty niche market yet somehow Max has managed to write a superb debut novel that interweaves the true story of Oi! icon, Nicky Crane who came out as gay in the early 90s and died of Aids not much later with the fictional stories of Tony, another gay skin living through the 70s and 80s skin/NF scene and James, a modern day gay skin researching Crane and Skrewdriver for a possible tv drama. The James character seems to be semi-autobiographic with Schaefer expertly moving from the present day London gay scene which has long fetishised skin chic with the evolution of the white noise Oi! movement of the late 70s and early 80s that had homos on the same hitlist as blacks, commies and jews. There are newspaper cuttings and fanzine pieces detailing the gory reality of messy neo-Nazi politics and all manner of cranky 'pyschogeographic' and occult rituals that somehow feed into the potty world of ye olde crypto-fascist yet somehow this makes it all the more compelling.
Crane himself is a kind of ghostly figure, a monstrous meathead with few if any redeeming features who becomes a bogey man for the likes of Anti-Fascist Action and a hero to the footsoldiers of the NF/BM/BNP. The story of his hidden sexuality and those of other gay skins nevertheless doesn't distract from the brutality of their attacks on asians, blacks, reds and anyone else they regard as enemies. Yet as the internecine cracks appear between competing 'patriot/nationalist' factions (Griffin bringing in Italian neo-fascists to advise the NF for example) their warped world view becomes more and more outdated just as their clothes become entrenched in the past. There's a notable scene when the skins hook up with Chelsea casuals to attack a Bloody Sunday remembrance parade in Trafalgar Square and get chased off by even more ruthless AFA activists, then suffer further humiliations as the 'reds' put them firmly on the back foot.
You almost feel sorry for Tony, who genuinely believes in his racist cause as the whole nationalist movement crumbles around him and he's reduced to posting on gay websites as Arealnazi who will 'rape you and beat you and leave you bleeding' - this is where James, who has a penchant for masochistic humiliation, finally hooks up with someone who actually knew his ultimate quarry, the fascinatingly conflicted BM Leader Guard, Nicky Crane. There's a kind of 'Midnight Cowboy' feel to the rather pathetic figure of Tony, someone who still wears the uniform of racial, sexual and political oppression, even whilst chasing young cock around town,a lost soul with no family or friends to speak of, living on past glories, ritualising his cartoon sadism, washing his clothes in someone's washing machine, clinging to a music and a sub-culture that has almost vanished. Having been a Cockney Rejects fan myself and a brief devotee of Oi! I remember all too well how easily the reductivist mantra of the Nazis was accepted by working class white lads looking for easy targets to blame for their economic plight. Gary Bushell was Sounds token lefty prole writer at the time and promoted Oi! as a true representation of (white) working class culture. It was largely thanks to Bushell that the Rejects in particular became a massive group yet no matter how much he protested otherwise (and he protest-eth too much) there was no excuse for putting a well known nazi like Crane on the cover of an LP whose title ws itself a skit on the nazi mantra 'Strength Thru (J)Oi'
Children Of The Sun has its faults; it is over-written in parts with the author trying a bit too hard to show off his way with a sentence and the whole 'novel about a man writing a drama which turns out to be a novel about a gay nazi' shtick is a little self-indulgent but the structure manages to sustain the plot device and time shifts. These are minor critiicisms however and ambition in a young writer shouldn't be admonished. Schaefer has written a disciplined, intriguing book about a largely obscure figure that sheds a light on a part of Britain's history that most authors and media commentators would prefer to forget. Even if, like the book, this was originally intended to be a film or tv drama, the quality of the writing puts it on a higher level than mere 'television.' Put your boots and Harrys on!
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