Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Walk on the Nightside

If you’re looking for a little sci-fi adventure with a liberal dose of the fantastic, disguised as a pulp-fiction detective novel, take a walk on the Nightside. Simon R. Green, veteran author of other books of fantasy adventure, introduces a new series with Something from the Nightside. The Nightside is a horrible, intriguing place, where beings from all different worlds come to satisfy any and every secret desire or twisted appetite. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere will recognize the idea of a secret, hidden London, a parallel darker heart which lives beats deep below the bright London streets. The Nightside is simultaneously broader and darker, encompassing many more planes of existence and much more depravity and violence than Gaiman’s whimsical Neverwhere.

For his tales from the Nightside, Green has created an interesting protagonist, a paranormal detective named John Taylor, who was actually born and raised in the Nightside, whose name alone makes most of the population of the Nightside either steer well clear of him or target him for murder, for reasons even Taylor does not completely understand. He has a powerful “gift” – not unusual for residents of the Nightside – thanks to his mother, whom he doesn’t remember. She left him and his father after revealing that she wasn’t human. Green makes it very obvious that the mysteries of John Taylor’s mother will add more to the plot later (bold font intended; cue loud, ominous, melodramatic music).

In the meantime, John has left the Nightside when he felt he could no longer outrun all the powers that wished to kill him. When Something from the Nightside opens, John has been living in regular, modern-day London for five years, barely scratching out a living as a private detective. The narrative begins with the stereotypical film noir, hard-boiled detective scene Рdingy, small office; rainy city night; bills that need paid; the knock on the door by a rich, pretty dame with attitude who immediately begins verbally sparring with the rough-looking P.I. with enough blas̩ attitude to match her feisty one. The clich̩d Raymond-Chandler-esque phrasing is pretty heavy-handed here, but read on, and give the book a chance, because this new client leads Taylor back into the Nightside Рa journey filled with nods to worlds as varied as the Cthulhu mythos to the Twilight Zone, but an unique creation completely belonging to Green.

Taylor’s first foray back to the Nightside after his – er, sabbatical – brings him into contact with such quirky, dangerous characters as Shotgun Suzie, an assassin who lives to kill; Razor Eddie, a cold-blooded killer who, upon his death, asked to be resurrected so he could use his death-skills to murder the truly evil; and other folks known only by a label, such as the Collector, whose singular goal is to collect the most unusual, most rare, most sought-after items from any time or place in history, and who will do anything to get these items. John Taylor’s gift is that he really is a “private” eye – his third eye is so powerful, he can find anything in the Nightside. Nothing is hidden from the supernatural spotlight in his head – unless the Authorities who govern the Nightside, or something else equally powerful, has hidden it. Like the teenage daughter of his new client, who came to the Nightside, and seems to have vanished.

These books are a quick, fun read – what one critic called “brain candy, hard-boiled” – but they offer something that feels at once familiar and original. While the descriptions can get a bit repetitive, I often got the sense that Green was playing with the genres he was mixing like a mad scientist in his lab, laughing as he made a parody of the very ingredients he was using. Ultimately, Green’s writing is not his real strength, but his complete lack of fear with experimenting makes the stories quite compelling. The reader, like the inhabitants of and visitors to the Nightside, never knows what will turn up around the next corner, or on the next page. Having enjoyed the first book, I soon picked up the second book in the series, Agents of Light and Darkness, where I found the plot a little stronger, the writing a little smoother, and the characters given some added dimension. Remember, the point of the Nightside is that there’s something here for everyone ….

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