Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Aloha From Hell

I love doing reviews of series books–because pretty much all I need to do is say, "Well, if you are a fan of Whoever's series, all you need to know is that the latest one is out and you should a) go to your vanishing bookstore and buy it; b) order it from an online megabookstore and have it delivered; or c) download it into your reader, whichever is your pleasure. 

Makes my reviewer gig ever so much easier this way.

(Might be a wait for this one to show up at the library, so I'll leave that one off the table.)

Technically, this review, of Richard Kadrey's third installment of his Sandman Slim series, Aloha From Hell (not to be confused with the German rock band of the same nameis a little ahead of its time–the book from Harper Voyager isn't officially out until mid-October; still, a heads-up early so you can go ahead and order it isn't amiss these days, given that your neighborhood Borders, at least, is going to be gone when the book comes out. 

Rest in peace, Borders, I'll miss you. 

Um. Back to Rich's novel. If you've read the first two Sandman Slim books and liked them, you'll like this one, too. If you haven't, run get them, Kill the Dead and Sandman Slim before you read this one. You don't need to, the latest book stands alone, but all that backstory is fun. Well, it is if you like your fun active, bloody, gory, full of zombies, monsters, demons, psychotic angels, an animated pool-playing, beer-drinking head on wheels, and a guy who used to be an arena fighter in Hell who carries a .460 Smith & Wesson to augment a hellish whip called a na'at–and who wouldn't like all that?–you'll be right at home here. 

Not to give too much away, but these days, Hell is in turmoil, as is Heaven; God is falling down on the job, and so is Lucifer; the world is going to hell in its usual hand basket, and James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has to deal with it, with no less than the universe as we know it at stake. 

And you gotta love it that a goodly chunk of Hell looks just like Los Angeles ...

Kadrey is good enough that I forgive him his use of present tense, which I've always considered a literary affectation best reserved for the little magazines published by assorted universities. I would wish it into the cornfield since it seldom adds anything to genre material.

And we must need speak about the comparisons to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Such comparisons are not altogether unwarranted, though Kadrey brings a nastier, manic energy to Slim that's hardly the same as Butcher's Harry Dresden. Still, there is plenty of magic and mojo and beings supernaturale in both, and the protagonists tend to share a certain fuck-off-and-die attitude when pushed that results in wholesale slaughter of anything that gets in their faces.

A more-than-human wise-ass protagonist who can do magic in an unrelenting battle against demonic, evil, etc. forces out to destroy him, the world, the universe and everything? One of them has a brilliant skull sidekick who fills him in on stuff he needs to know, and the other has a brilliant head sidekick who fills him in on stuff he needs to know.


Similarity in fictional characters is inevitable. Robert Parker's Spenser was solidly entrenched in Boston when Bobby Crais came up with Elvis Cole out in L.A. Now it's true that neither of them invented the wise-ass private eye, so it's not as if they were breaking virgin ground, but early readers might have been forgiven for thinking that Cole and Joe Pike were but paler west coast copies of Spenser and Hawk when they first appeared. I thought so.

Wise-cracking smart-ass P.I. with a death-on-two-legs mystery-man sidekick who has his back? Which series does that describe better, Parker's or Crais's?

I see no plagiarism here, neither intentional nor accidental, we're talking about archetypes going back to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett on one hand, and Ulysses on the other. If you gonna play music in our culture, it's a few notes, some sharps and flats, and you are bound to repeat something. Only three plots, remember?

Crais made his guys different over the next few years, however, and nobody confuses them these days. (Neither Crais nor the later Robert Parker knew diddly about guns when they got started and it showed. Parker never really did learn, though Crais has.)

Um. Anyway, all of this is to say that Kadrey's latest is worth reading. So read it. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reading tip.

Two other series to consider for your "similar-to" list, the Garrett PI by Glen Cook and either Nightside or Secret Histories series by Simon Green. Same arch-types: loner smart-alec with a all-knowing brain sidekick involved in a larger-than-them mystery.

Good summer reading.


Steve Perry said...

I've read the Simon Green series. I'll have to check out the Cook.

aa said...

I read the first Sandman Slim book and didn't care for it. Also couldn't finish the Simon Green series. Both books seemed much simpler that the Dresden Files with less character development in the Sandman Slim book and not enough difficulty in the Simon Green book, he seemed at no risk, so didn't care enough to finish the book. I anxiously await the Dresden Files books and usually don't care for books in first person. I like the written dialogue and characters. Would appreciate if you can explain in writerese the difference you see between the books.

Steve Perry said...

AA --

Kind of like me trying to explain why you should like vanilla ice cream more than strawberry or chocolate -- it's a matter of taste, and you like it or you don't.

I happen to enjoy a wide-range of fiction, and in the case of wizards and warlocks and such, Kadrey, Butcher, and Green are all good writers and I like what they produce.

They are different experiences, but. how many ways can you cook something and still like it? Garlic mashed potatoes with chicken gravy or french fries are different tastes but both are still potatoes.

First-person VP is common in mystery novels, and that's because if you are inside the head of the protagonist and limited to knowing what he knows, the writer can keep a whodunnit going. A lot of science fiction and fantasy uses mystery tropes, so first person is useful if you are trying to keep a secret.

Most stuff is written third-person past-tense, and as such disappears to most readers. Viewpoints can be limited, camera, omnipotent, it depends on how the writer wants to tell the story.

Second person VP or First person, in present tense -- e.g. "You are traveling in another dimension ..."

Or "I wake up in the bottom of a deep a pit ..." can sometimes offer a sense of immediacy since the action is happening as you see it, but they are unusual and often awkward, and readers tend to notice the voice more.

You don't want a reader stopping to frown at, or even admire the writing itself, that pulls them out of the story.

What reviewers do is offer what they see and like or don't, and if you find one with whom you agree more often than not, then you can use him or her as a touchstone.

Sometimes, if you find one who likes stuff you hate, you can use that just as well by going the opposite direction.

steve-vh said...

Listening to Butcher's "side jobs" right now. Sounds like this would be a good next read!!