For the last three or four years I’ve barely been reading at all, mostly because the times I would once have spent with a book (tube journeys to and from work mostly) I’ve tended to spend on my own writing – either staring into space and thinking about things or slashing at print-outs with a red pen. In an effort to redress this shameful situation and recharge the batteries of inspiration somewhat I’ve been reading quite a bit since the new year, mostly non-fiction about WAR by way of research and inspiration for my next project.
However, my editor would not stop GOING ON about this book she’d been working on, and my disgust knew no boundaries when I realised it wasn’t one of mine. Naturally I consider praise for any other author a wounding betrayal, particularly since I know the author in question, Chris Wooding, pretty well and run my life thoroughly according to Gore Vidal’s principle of, “every time a friend succeeds a little part of me dies.” So I picked up a proof with the intention of skimming a chapter or two and in the ardent hope of debunking the inflated myth of Wooding’s talent. It hurts me, oh how it hurts me to have to grudgingly lend my mumbling voice to the choir of approval.
The book in question is his forthcoming Retribution Falls. I guess in rough outline you could say it’s something like Firefly (something very like, really, though that’s no bad thing) but with a little steampunky victoriana replacing the wild-west elements of the setting and a sprinkling of magical demon-dust on the top. The Firefly comparison is apt for me, not just in the general outline of “Charming reprobate ship’s Captain tries to scrape a semi-criminal living from a messed-up world in a patched together heap-of-junk ship with the help of a mismatched reprobate crew each with their own demons in the closet (sometimes literally)” but also in the neat combination of swashbuckling excitement and wisecracking patter with sometimes surprisingly hard-edged violence, moral ambiguity, and a cumulative depth. Not depth of a universal point-making kind, necessarily, but depth in terms of its depiction and investigation of a set of flawed characters and the relationships between them. Like Firefly, it pulls the neat trick of sucking you in with pure entertainment value, and delivering substance while you’re not looking.
Usually there will be things that will jerk me out of a reading experience, events or dialogue or constructions that get me thinking, “Yeah? Really? I dunno…” with my eyebrows all slanted. Not so here, really. Each element works well and adds to the whole. It’s smoooooth, like the Commodores. I guess you could criticise it for things it isn’t, if that’s your bag. It isn’t dark and heavy. It isn’t massively original. It isn’t immensely surprising. But that’d be a bit like criticising Usain Bolt for being not that great with a discuss. Erm, he’s a sprinter. Retribution Falls picks you up, and it whisks you swiftly and entertainingly along, and it sets you down with a big smile on your face.
Can’t say fairer than that.