Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Ex Libris: Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim

*a shadowy figure lights up a cigarette, revealing a pair of cat's-eyes that glimmer even after the fire's match dies*

So you wanna know about Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim? You're a braver human than I.

But then again, Kadrey is a tough punk, being around the writing world long enough. He wrote an early cyberpunk novel in the '80s, Metrophage (online here), so he comes from the same crowd of old cyberpunk hands like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.

You can almost get the same biting/noir/hard-boiled writing touch with Kadrey's entry into the urban fantasy subgenre. This, I think, is what makes ol' Sandman Slim different from other urban fantasy books: the man is a tad bit rougher than most of those soft-shoe characters. Personally, I wouldn't want to meet Sandman Slim in a dark alley compared to those jokers.

Who is Sandman Slim? His real name is really James Stark and he was an asshole with a real talent for magic. Unfortunately, those who he thought were his friends sold him out to Hell and he spent eleven years doing dog-and-pony tricks for the princes of Underworld in their arenas.

Then one day, he found a real reason to come back to Earth and now he's pissed. He wants revenge on those people who stuck a knife in his back and he's taking names as he wanders the cultural desolation that is the demon- and monster-infested city of Los Angeles. In his wake, he's leaving a trail of dead bodies, dead monsters and a lot of burning buildings and cars.

He's loveable that way, if you know what I mean.

So yeah, this is really more of a revenge story than anything else. Stark has been in Hell too long to have any redeemable social skills and he'd rather stab, shoot, kick, punch or magic the bad guy than ask questions. Which, you know, is kinda hard if you're trying to find the right bad guys so that you can kill them. So yeah, he's a lousy detective.

The thing is, he still makes a new friend, renews an old acquaintance like an immortal French alchemist, cuts off the head of an old enemy and turns it into a sidekick, and gets on the very wrong side of Heaven and Homeland Security. One thing you can say about this guy is that he's relentless.

That's what's so edge-of-your-seat, knuckle-biting, can't-stop-reading great about Kadrey's book: it has the ramming power of a runaway armored bus. You can't stop, you can only hang on and watch it crash through fences and buildings and people.

The funny thing is that, though it may seem like Stark may come off as one-dimensional as Wil E. Coyote (you can drop an anvil and he still comes out punching and kicking), Kadrey's managed to make him come off as uncomfortably human.

After coming back to Earth, Stark knows he was a complete jerk before he was sent to Hell. But he knows that no one deserves the fate that happened to him. This very human act of wanting revenge makes us sympathize with him. Who wouldn't want to cry and gnash their teeth in the face of a lifetime in Hell and losing the thing you love the most?

So yeah, Kadrey's great and so is Sandman Slim. Yadda-yadda-yadda, you know the drill on this blog. Go read it. I'm telling you, you won't regret it.

Take it easy, dogs.

*the cigarette dies down and the silhouette slinks off into the darkness, leaving the words rating: three paws out of four where he was standing*

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