Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sandman Slim Review!

You may be asking yourself, "Whatever happened to that Masked review?" And my response is, of course:

Weeping Angel attack!

Don't blink, bitches!

Oh... shit.

Now that we're all horribly doomed to live out our lives in the 70's or whatever, we might as well... continue... with this review? (Sidebar: I will be giving lessons on how to write the most awkward transitions possible later in the day.)

Q turned me onto this book. And I know it's a little bit of a change, but I'm going to give a really short, spoiler-free synopsis first, along with my overall rating, and then jump my usual spoilery review. And I've decided to do it this way because:

This is not a bad book. It's a good one. If you're really into urban fantasy, or just sorta into urban fantasy, or think the phrase "urban fantasy" sounds vaguely familiar, then what are you waiting for? Go hit up, or your local library, or Borders. The protagonist of Sandman Slim is a man named James Stark (of no relation to Tony) who's spent the last 11 years in Hell. Not because he was objectively horrible and then died, but because his friends are assholes who sent him there while he was still alive. Now Stark is back... FOR A DISH SERVED HOT! ...because Hell is hot, you see. And revenge is normally a dish served - you know what, forget it.

That's all you really need to know. Oh, I give it a 3.5 out of 5. So better than average, but there ended up being some strange... I'm not sure if I'm going to call them problems, but... well, you'll see. I did really want to give it a 4, though. It's a good book, like I said. Mostly solid. Genuinely funny in places, especially the dialogue. Lots o' action.

And before I forget, the author is Richard Kadrey. His website is here, if you are curious. He dabbles in photography, and you can find some of his artsy porn/porny art if you click the correct sequence of links. There's no peen, though.

Okay, so spoilers. Well, I guess I should flesh out the plot a little more first. You've got this guy, Mason, and he's the main antagonist. He's the leader of Stark's asshole friends, and he orchestrated the whole let's-send-Stark-to-Hell thing because Stark always had an easier time at magic than him, and Mason is - surprise! - an asshole. Also, there's a subplot revolving around Stark's girlfriend and her death at the hands of Mason while Stark was in Hell, but it's honestly irrelevant because it doesn't go anywhere. Maybe in the sequels it'll pay off. Stark wants revenge because asshole Mason and his asshole friends sent him to Hell, and, for all intents and purposes, that's his only motivation.

Okay, now spoilers for real.

Sandman Slim is gritty, but in an oddly sanitized way. A PG-13 sort of way. There's a great deal of violence, but it's like the violence in The Dark Knight: No blood. And don't get me wrong, that's totally okay, but I got the sense Sandman Slim wanted me to think of Stark as this hardcore antihero, on this rip-roaring mission of revenge, all consequences be damned. But I just couldn't. Stark never does anything really morally questionable, or even really bad. The worst he does is steal cars. Although, to be fair, he steals a lot of cars. But how many of his asshole friends does he kill? One. The serial killer one. (The serial killer one is not Mason, FYI.) I'm not sure where murdering unrepentant serial killers falls on the morality scale, but it can't be too far below stealing cars, right? Right?

At best, Stark is a dark hero. Like Batman. Without the toys and latex nipples, though. Stark isn't afraid to use violence, but there are definite lines he will not cross. But it's strange because I feel like they're lines most people wouldn't cross. But Stark spent 11 years in Hell. And I don't want to presume, but fuck it, I'm going to anyway. 11 years in Hell, and the choices Stark makes are basically the same choices I'd make if I was in his place. Either I'm royally fucked up, or Stark is made out of stronger stuff than the normal human being. (Spoilers: He is.)

Look at it this way: Stark has spent the last 11 years pitted against Hellion after Hellion in gladiatorial games to the death, but when he returns to our world, he basically fits right back into the daily grind. Besides being completely baffled by cell phones, naturally. He's concerned with making money. Making sure he looks presentable. Making sure he's nice to nice people. I mean, fine, he kills his serial killer friend to save the lives of his new non-serial killer friends. And he kills a bunch of cultists who are trying to end the world, which is arguably self-defense, if you think about it. But those are all choices I have absolutely no problem with. What else is he going to do? Let his friends die? Let the world end? Stark is a good guy, is what I'm saying. Strangely good.

Honestly, it's a moot point because the reveal is that Stark is part angel, so he really is made out of stronger, better stuff than the rest of us.

Stark does threaten to burn all of creation toward the end of Sandman Slim, though. There's this angel, right? And she stabs Stark at one point with her angel sword. (Which also has a point because pun.) So in order to ensure she never stabs him again, he plants a bomb inside of himself. If she stabs him, the bomb will detonate, and because magic, all of creation will burn.

Here is a short list of things Stark is willing to burn:

1) Puppies
2) Double rainbows
3) Doctor Who
4) Halloween
5) The National Museum of Natural History
6) Drag queens
7) Finger-less gloves
8) The indescribably refreshing feeling of a tall cold glass of water when you are hungover
9) Literally the entire sum of human knowledge
10) The moon

You'd think I'd enjoy this moral ambiguity. Well, I don't, so you're wrong. Throughout the entire book, Stark has expressed no reservations about dying. In fact, he's pretty okay with going back to Hell as long as he kills Mason first. So he doesn't plant a bomb inside of himself to hold creation hostage and ensure his survival, he plants a bomb inside of himself because he just doesn't like this particular angel and wants to freak her out. Yes, Stark is prepared to burn creation because he is petty.

"Hold on," I can hear you say. "Stark will probably disarm the bomb after he kills Mason. I mean, that's all he wants to do. The bomb's keeping him alive in a dramatic reversal of every bomb to ever exist."

Yeah, but as it turns out, Stark isn't really too concerned with Mason. At the end, Lucifer reveals Mason actually survived the big knockout fight he and Stark had at the climax, and Stark's response? He gives Lucifer the verbal equivalent of a shrug and goes back to watching TV. Nice, Stark. Mason was only your entire motivation.

Stark is prepared to burn creation because he is petty and because he wants to watch TV. I don't have a problem with this. I really don't. I love TV. I am also petty. The problem I have is that it's out of his established character. A good chunk of the end is out of character. Stark digs himself out of Hell to get revenge, but then... he gets lazy? He'll burn literally everything, but not Neo-Nazis? (Yes, there were Neo-Nazis.) I don't get it.

Sandman Slim really is a good book. I swear. It might be because it's the first of a series, and that's why the ending is so weak. I'm assuming Mason is going to play a role in the sequel, so he's got to escape, but damn. Stark should be somewhat concerned, at least. A little.

The only other problems I have are stupid problems. There are no chapters in Sandman Slim. Just section breaks. I need chapters, okay, Richard Kadrey? I put my Animorphs bookmark there.

And the prose is mostly devoid of any body language. I don't know if this is characteristic of Richard Kadrey's writing style because this is the only book of his I've read. Here's an example. This is what we get of Mason before their big knockout fight:

Mason sounds exactly the same. He looks the same, too. I can't tell if he's keeping himself young with magic or if time works differently here.

Really? Really? We don't to get to know how he's standing? Is he leaning against anything? Arms crossed, in his pocket, hanging loosely at his side? He could be sitting for all we know. HE COULD BE TAKING A SHIT. Is he smiling? Grinding his teeth? Sobbing into a handkerchief? No idea.

Richard Kadrey lets dialogue do a lot of the heavy lifting, which isn't wrong, and it didn't hurt Sandman Slim, but more body language cues could have helped, you know? There are other ways to express emotion besides dialogue.

Anyway. Good book. The beginning and middle are solid, definitely. The end gets a little... sloppy? There are too many loose threads floating about. Maybe Stark is slowly sliding into antihero territory, and that's the reason for the bomb. Maybe Stark letting Mason go is a plot point in the next book, or the next. I dunno. Q will let me know. Or I could get over the lack of chapters and find out myself, but... Animorphs bookmark.

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