This isn’t a review per se because the 3 books in question aren’t Sci Fi (or even fantasy) and as such aren’t topics for this blog. However, the authors are established Sci Fi writers so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two – Dan Simmons and Robert Shockley – and their books that are decidedly not Sci Fi.
What is interesting to me is that both authors have been succesful in Sci Fi (Simmons’ Hyperion and Sheckley’s Immortality, Inc.) and crossed over into other genres – both into detective fiction in this case. Both are also very solid writers who know how to develop characters and stories along with the best of them.
The 2 Simmons’ books I read are Hard Case and Hard Freeze - 2 novels about an ex-PI, ex-con named Joe Kurtz who happens to be a real tough guy – he has no qualms about shooting first and asking questions later. The Sheckley book I read was The Alternative Detective, from his series about an ex-hippie turned PI named Hob Draconian who is anything but tough – he refuses to cary a gun, for example.
Simmons happens to be the rare author that can apparently do it all. He has written novels in science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and even popular fiction. While this in itself isn’t rare, it is the fact that he’s won major awards in nearly all those genres for his novels – he has a Hugo (Hyperion), two Locus awards (Hyperion and Children of the Night), a World Fantasy award (Songs of Kali), and two Bram Stoker awards (Carrion Comfort and Prayers to Broken Stones) along with many other (what I consider) lesser awards. He’s simply a literary juggernaut taking hill after hill without regard to genre.
Both Simmons books were good – I’d give them a solid 4 stars. The only downside to the two is that they aren’t overly amibitious. Of course, I suspect this is because Dan knows his audience – the detective novel folks aren’t interested in stories with the complexity of the Hyperion series. That honestly isn’t a big problem though – the books read fast (I read Hard Case in 2 evenings after work) and keep you reading. The stories are fast paced, have great dialog, excellent characters, and good description of the action sequences. I won’t spoil any of the story here, except to say that the Joe Kurtz character is as far from a goody goody PI as you can get – he certainly has questionable morals (killing bad guys in cold blood is OK by him.)
I do have to come clean though – Dan Simmons is probably my favorite author right now and has been for about 10 years (before that it was Jack Chalker.) That means I probably give him a break here or there due to my bias.
The Sheckley book was also good, I’d give it 3.5 stars. Sheckley’s style in this book was humorous. It wasn’t laugh out loud style comedy, but more irony and sarcasm with a large dose of satire. It definately has a Voltaire quality to it (having read way too much Voltaire in college and high school, that’s one author I have learned to recognize.) The book is very well written with solid dialog, good characters, and reasonable pace. My only complaint might be that the book is dated – it deals with the Iran/Contra scandal and it just doesn’t hold up today in our post-911 world. The Hob character is great though – his desire is to simply ‘find things out’ and isn’t afraid to make up a story (usally ironic) to try to get information.
All told, I enjoyed all 3 books – detective novels from authors you might not expect to do a good job with the genre.