… she kept shooting, taking out pyramids and columns of fragrance and colour. Estée Lauder, Nina Ricci, Lancôme, Gucci, Calving Klein, Clinique, Chanel, Ralph Lauren … a crystalline gazz of the highest order for Suk Hee. (Maul, 2003 Orbit edition, p. 34.)
Many commentators, most recently Sebastian Faulks, have noted the manner in which Ian Fleming validated James Bond as a character through the brands he used. It was important to Fleming to know, and to let the reader know, what cigarettes Bond smoked, what vodka he drank, what golf balls he used.
Something similar is going on in Maul. The bloody gunfight that precipitates much of the action in the maul occurs not just in an upmarket clothes boutique, but in Lord & Taylor. Sun and Alex have sex in the stockroom not just of an electrical goods store, but of Sharper Image. Other shops are mentioned – Godiva, Toys-R-Us, etc. Sun’s existence seems defined by the brands she uses – she doesn’t wear perfume, she wears CK1. When she finds a packet of cigarettes what registers is Benson & Hedges. The only significant thing that is not referred to by its brand, interestingly, is Sun’s gun.
Sullivan does this for authenticity. This may not be a mall in our world, but it is a mall in something that is a close enough approximation of our world to be recognisable. Americans, and most Brits (certainly anyone who’d ever seen The Blues Brothers or Dawn of the Dead) would have an idea of a mall in which trading names are prominent. Sullivan herself, who grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s, no doubt spent some time herself in such places (though hopefully she never ran into a running gun battle). So Sullivan’s maul needs to have same quality of commercial branding – anonymous stores or invented ones just won’t cut it.
Something similar is going on in the future strand. Of course, there the brands are made up, but commercial interests clearly still loom large in this world. The Mall game Meniscus is a product of NoSystems. Madeleine Baldino works for Highbridge. Some of the names, however, are not invented. Dunkin’ Donuts is still going, as is Play-Doh. Clearly, Meniscus’ world is not that far into the future.
I’ve talked in the previous post about how Maul is a novel about violence and gender roles. But the use of brand names suggests to me that it is also a novel about commercialism, and the way that can wreck lives. It is not just about the fetishisation of violence, but its commodification. It truly is an SF novel for the way we live now.