Monday, July 23, 2007

Great SF/Noir Book By A First-Time Author!
When I was growing up, I had two literary genre loves. I cut my teeth on the hard-boiled private eye fiction produced by Gold Medal, pulled to those books by the evocative covers drawn by Robert McGinnis (who could pass up scantily-clad women holding pistols?). I still pick up novels published by Hard Case Crime ( because McGinnis is still out there drawing some of those covers.

I also loved the world of science fiction. But I was torn, as most of us were in those days, between two polarities. Robert A. Heinlein wrote hard-edged science fiction that mostly came true over the next sixty years. Andre Norton wrote a more fanciful type of science fiction that didn’t mire itself in emerging technology or social stratification that could come about because of it. She just imagined wild and fun places to plunk her heroes down in and give them villains to defeat.

There was nothing like a hard-fisted private eye on the trail of a strong villain when rendered in the muscular prose of someone like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Also, there was nothing like sitting back envisioning future worlds built and peopled by gifted science fiction writers.

I would read books in one field, then switch over to books from the other field. During those days, it seemed like the two literary genres would never meet. At least not successfully.

After reading the description of KOP, Warren Hammond’s first novel, I knew I had to try it out. It had all the earmarks of the fiction I love to read in both fields.

The main character is Juno Mozambe, a corrupt cop that still has enough humanity about him to win over readers who are familiar with film noir. Juno could have stepped from one of those books or movies that came out when that top of tale was in its heyday. He’s a very complete character by those standards, and Hammond plays him fairly all the way down the line. In fact, that character could have been lifted from the book and thrown into Prohibition-era Chicago, Mafia-infested New York, or San Francisco’s Chinatown Tong stories and fit perfectly.

Juno has worked his way up through KOP (Koba Office of Police) by supporting and defending Paul Chang, who is the police chief. Chang taught Juno everything there was about corruption. Juno became a bag man for the police department, going to drug dealers and cathouses to collect bribe money.

But there’s currently a power struggle going on inside the upper echelons of the Koba society. This is usually the meat of any film noir story that involves political office, crime syndicates, and evolving economic problems.

Hammond brought Juno to life well. Within ten or fifteen pages, I felt I’d known the character all my life. He could’ve been one of the characters Humphrey Bogart would have played in the movies. But the reader isn’t bogged down with Juno’s backstory all it one time. Rather, that story seems to be sipped through very thin straw. Readers are only given enough about Juno to keep them interested and let them know the stakes that he’s playing for as the story develops.

The corruption is there. The political favors are there. The organized crime guys are there. This book doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to that tough guy image. It even pairs Juno with a young female rookie cop with something to prove to the world ala Dirty Harry.

Maggie Orzo is a young woman descended from the wealthiest families on Koba. She’s young and idealistic, but Juno also finds out that she will pursue her own ambitions and passions, which include being one of the best and highest-ranking policeman in the department. I think she’s a very impressive character and I can’t wait to see how Hammond treats her in the sequel coming out sometime next year. It’s supposed to be called Ex-KOP.

Hammond’s world, Koba, came to life for me in this book as well. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a world constantly on the verge of being swallowed up by the jungle that fought to reclaim all the civilized areas every day. On Koba, there’s only five hours of sunlight followed by a twenty-two hours of night. The predominant life form on the planet tends to be reptilian and tropical. Hammond’s descriptions of an everyday life that includes street cleaners using flame throwers to torch creeping vegetation, stratified canopy life among the trees, and the Koba River that flows through everything anchored me to this world. By the time I’d finished reading the book, I felt like I’d actually gone to an alien world and spent hard time there.

The economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots addresses today’s world, but also any Third World nations struggling to simply survive. Past successes of the culture live on in the city, but the desperation of those who’ve never had that taste of success is palpable. These are the common threads that run through every culture in the world today, and that have ever existed. Hammond obviously loves writing about the ideology of economics and class struggle.

Although experienced readers probably won’t find anything new in this novel, it’s still an amazing read. I picked it up, turned through a few pages, and was walking a beat on alien turf with a damaged and paranoid police detective that I at first abhorred and later came to love and respect. KOP went down as smoothly as a cool drink on a hot, summer day, and it was filled with enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes throughout.

As stated, Hammond already has a second book in the series in the works. Personally, I can’t wait. Although the first book finished up all the plots that the author had shaken out, there are still yet a number of problems and character actions to work out. Not to mention, Hammond built the world big. There should be a lot more stories here to tell. I just hope he gets to tell them all.


Angela/SciFiChick said...

Love this cover. I'm interested in reading it just for the cover alone!

Mel Odom said...

Honestly, the cover was what sucked me in too. Then I really liked the writing and the whole noir flavor. Even though the elements are somewhat uneven at times (balancing noir against SF), I thought it really worked. Especially for a first-time author.

Katie M. said...

This sounds great. I love the idea of a city in the jungle with all this noir stuff going on. I'll have to look into it when I have some time.

Katie M. said...

the cover reminds me of 'Greywalker' by kat something (I forgot her last name)

Angela/SciFiChick said...

Katie - Yes! That's what I was thinking too.. I wonder if it's the same artist?