Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey is the first entry in the Sandman Slim series published by Harper Voyager. A synopsis can be found here. Kadrey has produced something unique. Slim is wonderful exploration of the grotesque and beautiful aspects of humanity told in a sensual and harsh prose dripping with a yearning nostalgia for West Coast Americana. It come with a few warts, but they generally add to the allure of the book. Gritty has been the toast of the SFF scene for sometime. Slim isn’t gritty; it’s grimy.

Kadrey lays down a fantastic foundation for a new series. It is fantastic in the sense that it is a delight to read and fantastic in the sense that the setting is unreal. Slim takes place in an LA where magic is a thing. Vampires, demons, and other equally unpleasant non-humans roam the street. Hell is a real place, and Slim is fresh from it. In fact, the novel opens with Slim’s arrival from Hell. The rotting heap of garbage he lands on seems fresh compared to Hell, creating one of the best opening sequences in my experience as a reader. It sets the perfect tone.

Slim is a male teenage fantasy if a teenager had the collective life experience of a hard working, chain smoking, whiskey drinking, blue-collar worker. Slim is full of angst, pain, and poor decision- making skills that are eminently familiar to anyone who survived their teenage years. Mixed in between these poor decisions is smoking, drinking, fighting, and a love of things that go fast.

Tying all of this together is Kadrey’s wonderful authorial voice. Every scene is written through Kadrey’s love of cinema, music, LA, and Americana. If writing had an Instragram app, I would vote ‘Kadrey’ as one of the inaugural filters. Cementing these myriad influences is Kadrey’s grimey word choice and character POVs. In particular, the dialogue drips with an unholy fusion of sleazy and erudite banter that in context makes perfect sense but has no place in reality.

Slim’s plot and pacing stay fairly uptempo and chaotic. The narrative, like Slim, seems to lurch from one flashpoint to the next. Kadrey’s somehow manages to keep upping the surrealism, whether it be a brothel staffed by imprisoned Angels or a magical multi-dimensional key. The only constant is Slim’s desire for revenge and his tenuous grasp on humanity. Even so, the story isn’t exactly cohesive; it is more of a slowly unfolding nightmare.

I described Slim as a ‘male’ fantasy earlier for a specific reason. It is one of the novels few flaws, even if I think it is likely intentional. The female characters in Slim are very passive. They exist largely as objects to be managed by the more dynamic and active male characters. Allegra seems to function solely as a means for Slim to remember his humanity and failure to protect women (his girlfriend) in the past. Cherry’s role seems to be a measuring stick to prove how manly Slim is since Cherry literally, as in not figuratively, eats lesser men. A better female cast could have elevated the novel.

My last criticism has to do with Kadrey’s copious and incessant use of cultural trivia. The reader is bombarded with both obvious and arcane references to music, movies, and LA history. When these references work (i.e. the reader recognizes them), they greatly add to the flavor of the novel. When they don’t, they leave a bad taste in the mouth as you stop what you’re doing to perform some Google sleuthing. Kadrey leans too heavily on this tool. I think a better balance could have been made between description and the cultural name-dropping. That said, for readers who fall into Kadrey’s own demographic, they would likely view my opinion as nothing short of heresy.

Sandman Slim is a highly enjoyable read with a very unique voice. The world building may be a little unhinged, but that only adds to the allure. Especially impressive is how much growth seems to be left in the series. Very little is revealed of Slim himself, and I am eager to read more. I am very curious if Kadrey can keep up the constant cultural references without beginning to repeat himself. I definitely recommend Sandman Slim. While the SFF community continues to debate the place of ‘gritty’ fiction, Kadrey has taken it to the next level-- ‘grimy’.

Memorable Quotes:
"Otherwise, I might have crawled back into this world and ended up a charcoal briquette in my first five minutes home."
"She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in eleven years. I want to have monster babies with her right here and now."
“'Hello, asshole.' I slam the bag shut."
Harper Voyager: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
Imagine Source: Harper Voyager
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN: 9780061999444