Monday, January 16, 2012

The Real Thing? Pretty close...

Last week, reading Jeff VanderMeer's Philip K. Dick shortlist rundown -- the PKD awards the best paperback original SF of the year -- I was led to a review from the Journal from last May:

Robert Jackson Bennett's slower, more thoughtful "The Company Man"made me realize how far sci-fi has come in my lifetime. In a way, this is a crime-noir novel, with detectives investigating strange murders in the city of Evesden on the West Coast. It's 1919, but an "alternate" 1919, in which World War I did not take place, thanks to the dominance of new American technology controlled by the McNaughton Co.

Bits of "The Company Man" read like sections of "Das Kapital," with its images of abandoned children in filthy tenements, men worked till they're worn out and then discarded, and Company goons searching out union ringleaders. One of our goons, though, can read minds—or, rather, he can empathize. Half an hour with him and he's your best friend, whoever you are: a useful quality for an interrogator. Trouble is, he's picking up messages from something that isn't human, and that explains the strange hermit's technology breakthroughs as well.
I've been reading The Company Man over the holiday weekend and what's amazing is the detail and realism of its completely manufactured setting -- Zola meets Hammett meets Mieville . (Bennett himself insists on the influence of Le Carre, as well) There are the usual tyro structural flaws and narrative awkwardnesses, since this is a second novel (and from his picture he looks to be about 15) . But, boy am I looking forward to his next novel, which is set in the world of vaudeville.

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