Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Justin Robinson's FIFTY FEET OF TROUBLE

The best Halloween present a pulp/noir/monster fiction fan could possibly get is a new Justin Robinson novel, and that is exactly what happened this year.* A sequel to his almost-illegally-too-fun City of Devils, it's Fifty Feet of Trouble.

Once again, our guide through the madness is Nick Moss, the last human private eye in Los Angeles, finder of missing persons, encounterer (sure, that's a word. Now.) of the titular trouble.** Which starts off in sort of the same vein as last novel, but has with it a whole weight of emotional baggage that you just don't have to deal with when a doppelganger of no previous acquaintance asks you to find her missing mummy husband.

This time around, Nick's quarry is human (Still. We Hope.), but not only is she human, she is a little girl, and not only is she a little girl, but she is the daughter of two close and dear friends who fought with him in the Night War (the conflict after WWII when the Monsters Took Over), and not only are they his close and dear friends but they already lost a child to the monsters and... see where this is going? There are several sub-plots that tie into this main one, but the missing little girl quest is the armature on which all of the other stuff hangs like a fifty-foot [REDACTED] off a giant floating stone [REDACTED]. 

So where City of Devils was mostly a slapstick romp with some moments of hilarious danger, there is a mature and emotionally powerful undertone to our hero's quest this time around. Be assured, though: this doesn't detract from the fun of reading it; it enhances it. And yes, there's still silly monster stuff. For instance, one of Nick's other assignments is finding a magical missing toad, so a witch friend of his can continue casting spells.

So, as I said on GoodReads, I wasn't expecting this to be Justin Robinson's best novel yet, but it's his best novel yet. The comedy and tragedy set each other off to perfection (a paragraph after a line that makes you howl with laughter and want to read pages aloud to some hapless stranger, there's a gut punch ready to knock you out cold), the new characters are beautifully realized, and the new over-the-top villains are used with admirable and judicious restraint,*** and no plot thread is left dangling. Like Nick and not-his-lady-friend off a giant floating stone [REDACTED].

So, if you're anything like me, you'll want to set aside a block of time to just utterly devote to this novel. Have some snacks ready. And some holy water. And some garlic. And some silver. And some salt. And a camera. And a bullhorn. Useful things, bullhorns. You just never know when you'll have to talk down a giant rampaging [REDACTED].

And, psst, best of all, Nick Moss has more adventures coming Not Soon Enough. Werewolf Confidential. Okay.

*What. Halloween presents are totally a thing. Where have you been? Well, yes, this first time I did have to buy it for myself, but I trust that this won't always be the case. Right? RIGHT?

**Now that I know Justin better -- he even blurbed my upcoming book -- I know exactly how much he loves words like "titular."

***You'll be glad of this. Reverend Bobo. I need a brandy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Doctor, Doctor: Christopher Bulis' CITY AT WORLD'S END

I'm not a huge fan of the First Doctor, on television or in prose, so my enthusiasm was on the low side as I started City At World's End, though the premise looked good: the TARDIS crew land on a planet that is doomed to utter destruction when its moon, recently knocked out of its proper orbit by a passing asteroid, crashes right into it. It looks superficially like the world's inhabitants are prepared. Superficially.

All is not as it seems, of course, as if ever the case in a Doctor Who story. The city, Arkhaven (nudge nudge nudge NUDGE NUDGE NUDGE NUDGE), has indeed built a giant spacecraft that can take a huge number of people to safety, and there seems to be an orderly evacuation plan, BUT, as the Doctor quickly susses out from his unfortunate position as an internee in a refugee camp, there's an awful lot about this situation that doesn't make sense. At all.

Wait, refugee camp? Yes. Wait, you didn't think they were going to evacuate the entire planet, did you? Save everybody? Give everyone an equal chance? Ha ha ha ha ha ha, then why would the Doctor be there?

For this doomed planet is hopelessly class-ridden, in so many ways. There's a hereditary aristocracy. There is a seriously powerful religious institution. There have been terrible wars that have driven the population to drastic measures that made for refugees even before the meteor showers began to randomly devastate huge swathes of the planet. And there are nasty secrets. All over the place.

So this is a perfect early Doctor Who-era story. Even the rocket as described just screams 1960s sci-fi. The social criticism, too, is of its era: no concerns about racism, sexism or ableism, just about how the Elites and the Church are so myopically concerned about preserving their privilege that they're hampering the technocrats' efforts to save the human race.

Meanwhile, the TARDIS crew. Of course they get split up early, so that Susan can get borderline fridged (but only for a little while) and Barbara can get put through hell. This launches both of them into pretty admirable Self-Rescuing Princess routines (though Barbara's is unquestionably the harder road) while the Doctor harumphingly Consults with the rocket builders and Discovers Secrets and Ian, well, to Ian's credit, at least this time around (unlike in the first First Doctor novel I read, Byzantium!) he spends most of his time trying to rescue one of the women (whom this novel persists in referring to as girls, I guess because history, or something?).

Like a lot of Doctor Who stories of any era, this one suffers a bit from just having too many adversaries/complications stirred into its plot. A setting of inherent jeopardy and difficulty, which is already hiding layers and layers of secrets, is also stalked by a weird monster called The Creeper, AND there is a weird but ultimately satisfying sub-plot around Susan's fridging, which sub-plot winds up being what propelled me through some of this novel's duller bits in the middle. Kudos to author Christopher Bulis for pulling that off! This lands him just above the middle in the Arbitrary & Mercurial authors list:

Authors:

Alastair Reynolds
Una McCormack
Kate Orman
Mark Gatiss
James Goss
Christopher Bulis
Terrance Dicks
Gary Bulis
Mark Morris
Jonathan Morris
Justin Richards
Gary Russell
Keith Topping

As for the Doctors, no change. The First Doctor is going to have to show me something more before he budges ahead of the Fifth. Or the Fifth is going to have to really tick me off. Time will tell (hee hee).

Doctors:

Twelfth
Ninth
Sixth
Eleventh
Third
Second
War
Fourth
Eighth
Seventh
Fifth
First
Tenth

And the answer I know you've all been waiting for, did Ian redeem himself out of last place? And the answer is, yes, to a degree. It's good that he actually went looking for Barbara (and later, Susan), but before he had that to do he was useless and really kind of a worry-wart spoil-sport, but that's not enough to leave him below Perpigilliam. In fact, he nudges ahead of Rose, Adric and Vicki! Woo! As for Susan, she didn't get to show me a whole lot, but what she did was pretty excellent, so she debuts on the list right after to Barbara, whom I picture emerging from the storm sewers and rubble with her fantastic 60s helmet hair perfectly unmussed and just the mandatory artful smudge of dirt marring her fantastic 60s make-up, because Barbara.

Companions:

Ace
Amy
Romana II
Rory
Jamie
Ben and Polly
Tegan
Jo
Barbara
Susan
Clara
Nyssa
Samantha
Martha
Bernice
Ian
Vicki
Adric
Rose
Peri