Book Rave: Sandman Slim

By Linda Nagata
(cross-posted from Hahví.net)

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim was released to wide acclaim in 2009, but I only discovered it last week, and that happened in a roundabout way:

My own novel Hepen the Watcher: Stories of the Puzzle Lands – Book 2 should be out later this month. When Book View Café authors have a new release, one of the promotional strategies we use is to give away a hundred copies of the ebook via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.com. One of the requirements of this program is to supply a list of five titles somewhat similar to the book being promoted so that, with luck, the book will find those reviewers most likely to enjoy it.

Hepen the Watcher and its predecessor The Dread Hammer are unusual books. They’re sort of like sword and sorcery, because they have swords, and, well, sorcery — or magic anyway. But they’re not very traditional. Both are short, fast-paced, violent, and shot through with dark humor and feminist themes. I asked a couple of people who’d read them if they had any suggestions for similar books. The answer in both cases was, “Um, not really.”

So I turned to Google, searching on terms such as “fantasy” and “dark humor.” Sandman Slim kept showing up in the results, so even though the setting was entirely different from my books, I downloaded a sample, started to read it, and was immediately hooked.

The book is the story of James Stark, who was spirited away to Hell through the machinations of “friends” who turned out to be not-so-friendly after all. Stark is the only living human to ever set foot “Downtown,” and he survives there for eleven years before escaping back into the world in search of revenge.

And that is all I’m going to tell you about the plot, but I will add that if you’re offended by the movie Dogma, you probably won’t like this book. Sandman Slim is irreverent, violent, funny, clever, and so compelling that it’ll probably take me a couple days to catch up on my sleep.

It’s also a wonderful example of the sympathetic antihero. Not long ago I started to read another acclaimed book whose title shall go unmentioned. This one was also violent, but not at all funny, and I found no sympathetic or likable characters anywhere at all in the opening chapters. I didn’t finish that book. By contrast, James Stark, despite his violence, is a character to root for because he really does give a damn, he knows when he’s done wrong, he feels guilt, and he’s capable of love.

And for the writers out there, if you ever want a lesson on how to weave in the back story in a first-person narrative, Kadrey does a wonderful job of it in this book.

My only complaint about Sandman Slim is on the quality of the ebook. I read the Kindle version, and found it loaded with an unbelievable number of repeated, out-of-place, and incorrect words. Any competent proofreader should have picked up most of these, so I can only surmise there was no proofreader for the ebook.

But don’t let this stop you. If you read ebooks, then grab a sample. You’ll know within a few pages if this is a book for you. Print versions are also available, of course.

Linda Nagata is the Locus and Nebula award winning author of The Bohr Maker, Vast, and Memory, all available at Book View Cafe. Her latest book The Dread Hammer, is a fast-paced mythic fantasy of love, war, murder, marriage, and fate.

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