Off the Grid: The Catalyst

ABOUT Brian Courtney

Brian Courtney
Once upon a time, in 1973, a child was born in a majestic land where mountains extended further than the eyes can see. Born during a time of peace and prosperity there weren't any great kings or really any decent leadership of any kind. These leaders led the child and those like him to bel More...


A man without a name who called himself Pan wanted something more, something better. For as long as he could remember, something or someone was gnawing at him, calling him, draining him, making him hungry, making him strive for more, more of everything. Living the life and pursuing the happiness, Pan lived the "American Dream". Like so many cheerleaders, Pan worked hard to climb the ladder and he bought almost everything that "they" sold. Avoiding the questions and numbing the pain, Pan turned to drink and did drugs, he listened to loud music and had meaningless sex. He was a true consumer and a glutton until all the hedonism and all the materialism could no longer fill the void and help fulfill his life, his liberty and his pursuit of happiness.
The sports cars and white picket fences of the picturesque dream were now blurry and misshapen. His dream was shattered and the cracks revealed. Now he waits and watches and fears for the future that he knows is so near. Living in the shadows and preparing for tomorrow, he hopes that he is wrong, but knows that he is right.

“Echoes of Cormac McCarthy, whispers of Bukowski in a nascent Orwellian 1984-world, Off the Grid introduces Pan, a John Galt for the Everyman anarchist, in a near-future that’s frighteningly plausible.” (S.E. Whelan, Meson Media)

From the opening chapter we are invited to meet "Pan", and in Brian
Courtney's masterfully crafted debut novel that follows, though we may
never know his given name, we come to deeply know Pan and who he is
struggling to remain as the world around him begins to crumble. Off the
Grid: The Catalyst chronicles the journey of the man who goes by Pan, as
he moves through the levels of corruption and stands on the precipice of
the world he inhabits, yet how deep that ravine will go we have yet to

Pan lives in the shadows, at the end of a nearly abandoned street
inhabited only by those whom this world has forgotten. And though Pan
may be forgotten, he finds himself bearing witness to the flow of
history in the wrong direction. He watches an abusive and corrupt police
presence lead to the mysterious deaths of his neighbor and a homeless
man, his neighborhood about to be bought and sold en masse for
gentrification or worse, a city-wide road construction project with
nefarious ends, mass deportations, and as the stakes continue to build,
an event dubbed the Massacre on the Mississippi which then reveals the
nail in the coffin - the government initiative LifeLine, a program to be
able to track, and ostensibly save, anyone at anytime. Present
throughout are the women in Pan's life, Natalie, and Darcy, themselves
perched between the powerful flow of history against the painful ebb of
what is right.

Pan is in constant battle with a looming presence that manages to be
both mysterious and manifest throughout the work. It is the "they", the
world on the horizon that others before have termed Babylon, the
Machine, the powers that be ... it is the great beast whom Pan simply
calls The Institution. And it is the dichotomous split between Pan and
the Institution at the heart of the novel that allows it to achieve its
ambitious scope. Both are ever-present and yet always enigmatic. Details
of who Pan is, who he used to be, and what he is planning are meted out
in careful measure as the story builds upon itself.

Timely and relevant in an ever-shifting post 9/11 landscape, Off the
Grid addresses the rise of anatomical technologies, state control masked
as security, and the proliferation of invisible surveillances. With
deeply rooted philosophic foundations the book is underscored by an
exploration of the existentially dislocated masculinity of the modern
world, as Pan struggles deeply with what he calls "the void" inside.

Courtney confidently interweaves the political and the comedic alongside
Pan's narrative to achieve an elusive literary layering, and in-so-doing
manages to find a voice for that ineffable void within Pan, a voice that
proves singularly unique, with an unexpected tenderness, and always
punctuated with a striking wit. Pan's ornery sarcasm drips off the page,
makes you laugh-out-loud, and you will find yourself rooting for him
from the start.

The world that Pan inhabits is precarious, tychistic, and rapidly
slipping through his fingers. Everywhere he turns are reminders that the
change around him is reaching its apex, and if he isn't careful he will
not be forgotten, but worse, he will join the ranks of the disappeared,
as he begins to uncover the truth of LifeLine, whose origins are
reminiscent of a pre-engineered Patriot Act, awaiting the political
opportunity that 9/11 provided. Teeming with suspense and a building
tension from the opening pages we are left in constant anticipation
about whether Pan is guiding his own fate or being pulled in by the
undercurrents. With a sense of desperation and urgency off-set by an
eerie ominousness, we know that everything churning underneath for Pan
is about to boil over.

The author never falls prey to literary archetypes or cliche, as he has
artfully written characters who are always fully realized, even when not
fully likeable. Pan is magnetic, full of contradiction, and might yet
have an ace or two up his sleeves. Pan struggles to find a balance
between his passion and his nihilism as he confronts the system that
demands that choice. Fight, or be forgotten. Love, or walk away. Pan
will constantly surprise you, and you will find that the void within him
finds a foothold in you as he wrestles with those choices.

Pan struggles to decide if Darcy, a woman from great privilege and the
superficiality that comes with it, herself full of contradiction, will
ever be able to cross the divide between them and come to see some of
the truths Pan has uncovered. The themes of the book are masterfully
layered throughout as Pan questions whether Darcy could possibly fill
that void, or will only add to it, and that conflict is echoed in his
dealings with The Institution.

Not ever fully sure if Pan is one step behind or one step ahead of how
his world is folding down around him, and never sure of what fate awaits
him, the reader comes to deeply care for Pan. You are infuriated by the
injustices levelled against him, and fearful of the sway of forces that
surround him. Pan is the kind of figure who is alone in a room full of
people, and you feel a painful longing for him to find reprieve from his
isolation, for a connection that is meaningful. Yet through it all, we
also trust Pan, that he might yet find his way out, find himself, and
might yet be smart enough to make it.

Structurally reminiscent of Orwell, littered with a sensory imagery that
recalls Hemingway, and punctuated by graphic sex for good measure, Off
the Grid is a heartbreaking work of fiction that eludes easy
categorization. It is reverential, remorseful, tragic, deeply nostalgic,
yet always entertaining. Off the Grid is sure to alienate all the right
people as it proves itself an important addition to the conversation.
Pan will stay with you, and his journey will continue to haunt you. (Jessica Corin)