Friday, May 4, 2012

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey brings the over the top action and grit to the urban fantasy stage, with a healthy dollop of noir right on top. James Stark has spent a decade in hell fighting in the gladiator pits after being betrayed by those he thought of as his friends, taking on whatever demon or monstrosity that they could throw at him, and coming out stronger for it. Now he's back, with a key that opens any door and a knife stolen from a Prince of hell, and he's ready to take revenge on the people who sent him there. Now he has a new name, Sandman Slim, the Monster who kills Monsters.

So, we would be remiss if we didn't compare our anti-hero to his peers in the genre. Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, and Simon R. Green's John Taylor are the ones that come to the forefront. Well, here's what you do, kill their loves ones, send them to hell for 11 years, and release them when they're good and angry and just don't have any more fucks to give. Sandman Slim is the over the top, bloody adventure that reads as if Hunter S. Thompson and Robert E. Howard got together to write the most badass urban fantasy hero they could imagine.

While I try not to spoil much, it's pretty indicative that some of the first actions our protagonist takes on his return include mugging a druggie and cutting the head off one of his old friends. The drugged up streets of LA make for a fitting background for this revenge romp, and Sandman Slim does not disappoint. Our protagonist does not hesitate to brawl with angels and demons, all the while tearing up the streets and giving the finger to the magical oversight committee. 

On the other hand, it's certainly not a perfect novel, or anywhere near that. It feels a more than a bit unpolished, perhaps a result of the book seeming partly written in the middle of a drugged up rage. And although the side characters are interesting, they sometimes only get a little bit of the reflected limelight. We end up with barely sketched caricatures, when we really are rooting for these characters to step out and become three dimensional. Because the premise for so many of these are so promising, angels and devils and monsters all. There are loose ends galore and it almost feels as if we miss out of parts of the story that should be there. For example where the name Sandman Slim actually came from. The other issue is that for some, James Stark may simply not be a likeable protagonist. He does some pretty crummy things while learning to be a hero.

In the end, the best way that I can describe Sandman Slim is a gritty romp. As long as you don't expect a masterpiece, or a very original plot, then dive on in and enjoy this vulgar, bloody tale of revenge and ass kicking.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Growing up Geek: The Hermit Crab Races

So I figured that I'd add some of that maniacal laughter back into this blog, these stories may only be tangentially related to gaming, but they will definitely be funny. Because not only was I a geeky little kid, I was a geeky little kid in Florida, Dave Barry said it best in calling South Florida a magnet for weird.

There were of course, the hermit crab races. A game played in sailors bars, and best enjoyed, or perhaps only enjoyed after a copious amount of alcohol consumption. I recall that my mother, of infinite patience and no small amount of courage would take me as a treat. I had seen it once while on vacation and now requested it quite often. It was an open air bar along the docks, one where the sun and salt sea air mingled with the aroma of diesel fuel. Which makes the most wonderful rainbow patterns in water, although I don’t recommend trying it at home.
Perhaps I’m painting it as worse than it really was. This wasn’t exactly the dingy tavern where people outnumber teeth. It was filled with generally two types of people, the ones who actually worked the seas, usually on charter fishing boats or as yacht staff. And then the ones who had the money to pretend that they did while listening to Jimmy Buffet(a word to the wise, Thou shalt not take his name in vain) and getting drunk; the sea was their calling, the ocean their mistress, the waves mother to all, well, on the weekends at least. On the weekdays those Hawaiian print shirts were exchanged for much less exciting suits and ties. Still, it must have been a strange sight for them to see a five year old bellying up to the counter and demanding to see the hermit crabs. I can only be thankful that I was such a cute kid, otherwise I’m sure we’d have been tossed overboard.
Now, a hermit crab is not a very smart animal, nor is it easy to train(at least not by drunk sailors). Thus the hermit crabs, happy in their little shells, were plucked up, had a number painted on their backs, and were dumped in a bucket. There was of course no actual linear track, no, they were rather unceremoniously dumped out of the bucket into the approximate center of the table before they started their great escape to the false freedom of the edge of the table. In fact, their speed could be clocked at somewhere between snail and brain damaged sloth. But despite all of this, I was fascinated. Yeah, I think my mother caught on by then that I was a bit of a weird kid, as I faithfully cheered my hermit crab on to the finish edge, where if it was lucky, a slightly inebriated patron would catch it before it fell off entirely.
The slow and unlucky hermit crabs. Well, let us not talk about what happened to the slow and unlucky hermit crabs whilst amongst a bunch of drunken sailors. 

A small hermit crab
Less Sonic the Hedgehog than, 
Earthworm Jim sans suit.