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Nobody Gets the Girl

Author: James Maxey
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by: Tripp Reade

NobodygetsUp front, a caveat about this review: the author, James Maxey, and I are acquainted in the virtual sense, having critiqued one another's stories at an online workshop. His short story was a knockout, and it will be a fortunate day when we're all able to read it in some future collection. Cross your fingers that the day comes sooner rather than later.

Okay. Ethically purified, I can proceed. If, like me, you've come to associate hard science fiction with desiccated prose and corrugated characters, Maxey's book will confound that association. Yes, there is hard science here, at least by my reckoning -- vacuum bombs and time travel and terraforming, oh my -- but it's far from dry, parceled out as it is in small doses and leavened with humor. Here's an example of how he does it. Nominal bad guy Rex Monday is explaining the finer points of his "space machine" to our protagonist, Richard Rogers:

"My machine exploits the fractal math that underlies the fabric of space, allowing the spontaneous transposition of points along a curve. I built it out of a pocket calculator and a microwave oven." (204)

See? This is sufficient to tickle the intellect without making the eyes glaze over and the story bog down. In fact, the only thing dry about this book is Rogers' wit, which is liberally employed throughout these pages as he attempts to maintain his sanity. I could tell you why, but that would spoil one of the dozen or so delicious plot twists Maxey serves up. Let's just say Rogers has a serious case of sporadic reality and leave it at that for now.

God, the plot twists. Some involve identity, some involve romance, some involve life and death for certain characters -- no one is safe in this novel. These twists are whiplash tight and yet rock solid ; at no time will you think Maxey is cheating. Rather, you'll have an almost constant silly grin on your face as he pulls one fabulous trick after another out of his hat. The only problem with them is that they get in the way of writing this review: there are so many, and I refuse to give any of them away, which leaves me in an unfortunate position. I guess I could talk about the typeface, or the cover art, which is of the bona fide comic book variety.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this is subtitled "A Comic Book Novel"? Does that scare you? Do you have visions of inane dialogue and gratuitous violence? Again, relax. Like the best comic books, this takes genre conventions and makes them sing: the super-villain bent on world destruction, his semi-competent henchpersons (Sundancer, Pit Geek, Baby Gun, and the Panic), the super-genius good guy who is nevertheless emotionally stunted, the beautiful uber-babes (Rail Blade and the Thrill, who are more than the sum of their fetching curves), they're all here. One by one Maxey turns them inside out, even while serving up some way cool biff bang pow -- check out the big smackdown scene -- as he makes you believe in these new laws of physics he's conjuring.

The internal logic of this story is nothing short of remarkable. He's dealing with some concepts here that can be lethally Draconian to the careless writer: time travel, the theory of infinite worlds, the nature of ghosts and how they interact with the corporeal world. This is Maxey's amazing high-wire act, that he makes it look easy, that he takes these unforgiving ideas and juggles them with all the skill of a Cirque du Soleil performer. And when you see the use to which he puts Schrodinger's cat, you might, as I did, cackle with glee, startling whomever happens to be in the vicinity. Bravura stuff.

Woven through this epic struggle between Rex Monday and Dr. Know, the putative good guy super-brain, are strands that deal with the nature of reality and free will versus determinism, but always handled with a light touch. Maxey's skill at plotting and his bantering dialogue function as the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of such weighty themes go down with nary a grimace. In fact, you'll probably ask for more.

In the end, I can only quibble with one aspect of this book. In his dedication, Maxey indicates he'd bet on the Hulk in a tussle with Norse strongman, the mighty Thor. James, if you're reading this, I disagree, having always put my money on goldilocks. Other than that, bring on the next book!


January 23, 2005 in Science Fiction | Permalink


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