For those of us who navigate London by tube and bus, it can be easy to resent the city’s Range Rover drivers. The hulking black monstrosities are every bit as staggeringly inefficient a modern indulgence as the plastic water bottle, the sort of thing that makes us throw up our hands and ask: ‘have we all gone quite mad?’
For what good do they do driver or pedestrian? There are no mountains to conquer in London; no swamps or muddy tracks. They bloat beyond their parking paces. They burn through fuel and fume out our streets; and they draw the eye to our unequal distribution of wealth, almost as such as the ubiquitous chauffeured Black Mercedes.
Well, perhaps that’s the point; their presence on the tightly packed, jumble of central London streets could be a willfully calculated offense to those with shallower pockets. Bring on climate change, the drivers seem to say. Drown the riff raff, make it a swamp again, and let us dominate the surface alone!
We might have expected the proliferation of 4x4s in the city to have provoked a corresponding guerilla backlash: a renewed campaign of tyre-slashing and key-ing. But that flare of outrage, such as it was, has certainly faltered. We see few of the beasts wounded. If anything, the city Range Rover has spawned imitators, its bloated chariot form impersonated by every other manufacturer. The Range Rover, meanwhile, has evolved into more and more a visual brag, chintzy bling to be paraded about town, branded ‘Vogue’ and ‘Evoque’.
There is an insanity to this, in the age of melting caps and dwindling resources. Indeed, there is something of the American Psycho about the urban Range Rover driver; normally solitary, brooding males, with perfect hair and priceless suits. Do they compare their vehicles options, as Patrick Bateman once compared business cards with his colleagues, then go home to feast on human flesh?
Perhaps we shouldn’t judge the owners so harshly. Range Rovers sell the illusion of both freedom and comfort, which must be of real appeal to the trapped, stroke-dodging class of city drone. And, we might imagine, there must be a certain satisfaction in helming this wheeled beast around narrow streets, like some ancient general atop a war elephant, or a mighty siege engine.
Still, there’s no doubt the Range Rover possesses none of its ancestor’s battered, rugged appeal. Its owner may belongs to an exclusive club, but his vehicle has none of the purpose of the largely classless Land Rover Defender, which might equally be seen sporting crane or snorkel, transporting hay bales or soldiers.
It’s this utilitarian aesthetic that makes the ‘Landy’ the chosen transportation of Kenstibec, the main character of my science fiction trilogy, Barricade, Steeple and Rig. It actually plays a part in the development of his character– from brutally frosty ‘Ficial’ (a race of emotionless, artificial people at war with man) to something at least partly human. In Barricade, he forms his first emotional attachment to the Landy, which he uses to shuttle fellow Ficials from one barricaded city to another, carving a bloody path through humanity’s feral remnants in post-apocalypse Britain. It seemed appropriate that a creature beginning life with no emotion would first learn to love a thing, as opposed to a warm-blooded creature.
In Steeple the Landy serves as Kenstibec’s means of survival: working as a taxi driver in a human settlement allows him to hide in plain sight, observing humanity at close quarters, finding qualities to admire as well as to fault. In book 3, Rig, another 4×4 is the means by which he forges his first real bonds with people, as part of a team competing in a terrifying future blood sport.
Kenstibec would have no time for the city Range Rover: to him it would symbolise all that’s irrational and oblivious about human society. His reaction, however, would vary. The Kenstibec of Barricade would drag the drivers from their chariots and cull them. The Kenstibec of Rig would merely haul them out and talk to them, at least attempting to persuade them of their folly.
His journey from one state to the other is how I’ve attempted to keep the reader interested in his journey, among all the action and gunplay. This is, above all, high-octane science fiction. But be warned, Range Rover drivers, as you chug through the capital’s streets: some people have a fair bit of Kenstibec in them already. Consider a bike next time you’re in town.