Archive for October, 2013

Review: Channel Sk1n

Monday, October 21st, 2013

I think what Jeff Noon is trying to pull off in Channel Sk1n is admirable, but his execution didn’t work for me.  This is a near-futurish SF novel set in a world (a UK, really) with obsessive ubiquitous media and reality TV gone to allegorical levels.  In it, a young pre-fab pop star is infected with a media eating virus while the record exec who made her is watching his daughter destroy herself on the most popular reality show.

That’s a fine premise for an SF novel.  The execution left me unsatisfied for a couple reasons.  First the descriptions of everything read like lyrics.  I understand that the POV character is a pop diva, and would think that way.  I like the idea of describing a world that way.  In practice, however, I felt like the proceedings were rendered episodic and obscure by it.  One of the reasons poetry can say a lot with a few words is that those words trigger associations with common experience.  That’s much harder to tap in a world that’s close but not quite the same.

Secondly, the world feels like its constructed as an allegory.  That can work, of course, but when the allegory is this bald-faced – pop-star-maker’s daughter signs up to go mad on national TV to get his attention – I need something out of the ordinary to make it palatable.  The other part of the allegory that I find off is that all kinds of technology is thrown around that isn’t different in kind from what is in the world today, but it all has different names.  I think that hurts the allegory by removing the world further from ours, and the poetic descriptions by blocking associations.

Overall, I found Channel Sk1n ambitious, but unsuccessful.

Review: Harry Lipkin Private Eye

Monday, October 21st, 2013

I think that the best discriminator between mystery readers is how much they care about the mystery.  I get the impression that there are folks out there who live for the most perfectly crafted puzzles.  They love puzzles that play fair, that challenge the intellect, that stand up to careful analysis long after the book is complete.  I am not one of those people; every mystery is a McGuffin to me.  I like to see interesting characters,  a sense of place, great writing – the sorts of things that make a great novel.  The mystery format can be a great structure on which to hang those elements, and Barry Fantoni does a nice job hanging his writing here.

The  hook – and one can almost always characterize a modern mystery by its hook – is that the eponymous private eye is in his eighties.  This fact is both central to the novel and peripheral to the proceedings.  Structurally, it doesn’t change the process of unravelling the mystery much at all.  Leg work is leg work, and an old man can work a .38 and a tough line as well as anyone.  There is refreshingly little outright violence, though.

Harry’s an interesting guy in how independent he is and how he sticks to being who he is.  I don’t mean independent in the sense of “not in a nursing home.” He is who he is.  He doesn’t seem to have close friends or family around, but he’s not the less for it.  He’s still who he wants to be.  It’s  nice to see a story about an older fellow that’s light on the lamentation.

I also liked Fantoni’s evocation of Florida.  This isn’t the Florida of Hiaasen, filled with crazies and wild beauty, but the Florida seen by a still adventurous older man.  There are no poetic passages about the Everglades, but you always know where you are.

Thematically Harry’s age plays large.  Underlying all of this are questions about the protagonist that loom large but aren’t directly answered.  Why is he doing this job at this age? is the big one, of course, but there are others about friends and family.  It turns out that the answer to the first answers the others, but not in a terribly direct way.  It’s a nice piece of understatement, leaving the big questions and the big answers for the reader to find and answer.

Overall, a fine little mystery with a  compelling protagonist and some nice ideas.