||A review by Nathan Brazil
Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil
'Smoke trickled towards the ceiling, lost in the general cloud of joss as the woman ran down Passion's list with her own
alternative recommendations. The old woman wasn't even a quarter of the way down the list when Passion realized with embarrassment
that she'd based her own requirements on what had been available when she was in her teens, not what was on the market now.'
The old saying -- don't judge a book by it's cover -- was never truer than with Lucifer's Dragon. A day-glow orange and lime green
splodge, it's almost painful to look at.
However, under the covers is a Gibsonesque cyberpunk tale of two parts, separated by a century, with the earlier events told in
flashback. In the past, there's Passion diOrchi, daughter of a West Coast Mafia boss, and Kwai, her part-time lover and street
smart right hand. Passion has a plan to rebuild Venice, in the middle of the Pacific. As a base, she uses a huge fleet of old,
worn out, barely seaworthy ships, and couple of oil rigs. A modified form of coral binds and builds the ramshackle
foundations. Fast forward a hundred years, and New Venice is firmly established, with a central area of extreme opulence,
surrounded by bolt-on floating slums. Count Ryuchi, and the other members of an equally divided ruling council, maintain the
status quo, under the symbolic rule of the Doge, a 10 year-old boy named Aurelio. The Doge, who has no real power of his
own, is under round-the-clock surveillance, protected by WeGuard, and his personal, exotically enhanced bodyguard, named
Razz. Then the Doge goes missing, and Razz is dead, except that she's just woken up in a new body. As these few examples
show, Lucifer's Dragon has bags of invention, a huge sprawling idea, and some attractive characterisation. There are a few
problems, such as when the author makes the mistake of naming real world software and components. At the time of writing the book, the
kit mentioned was seen as state-of-the-art, but today it feels long out of date. In general, though, Grimwood's projections and
assumptions are still far enough ahead to be in the era he's writing about.
'Angeli wasn't sure. He wasn't good at unaugmented thought but, much as he'd like to, he couldn't risk borrowing an official
NVPD neural net to help him on his way.'
We see most of New Venetian history via a pirate DVD, replayed by NVPD Lieutenant Angeli Rispoli, as part of his investigation
into a murder. His only real suspect, is a girl from the heights of New Venice, whom he discovers is Karo diOrchi, daughter of
Count Ryuchi. Karo turns up in the slums, playing a video game called Lucifer's Dragon. This is a game which learns from its
mistakes, is therefore almost impossible to beat, and never the same way twice. Karo beats the game. It was at this point that
the book started to confuse me. The constant back and forth in time periods, and a lack of clarity as to how the past was relevant
to the future, made me wish the author had benefited from sharper editing. I wanted to like what I was reading. The characters
were interesting, the setting was novel, individual scenes were well drawn. But, somehow, my overall view was blurred. The
exotically enhanced bodyguard, Razz, was one of the more interesting characters, who seemed to be playing a major role. Until
she put herself in a situation, which no character with her background would ever allow, resulting in sexual abuse which came
over as completely unnecessary to the story. Later, just as she is on the verge of either completing or failing in her mission,
the character was abandoned. If there was a more than a line to explain what the heck happened, then I missed it.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Angeli was coming across as Judge Dredd lite, and the only living cop in New Venice. Count Ryuchi was conspicuous
by his absence. Using confusion as a writing technique would, in itself, not have been a bad thing, providing that the reader
was well informed. But I was just as befuddled as everyone else. I felt like I was being bombarded with channels, when what I
wanted was the news.
'Refraction, Alex thought happily, looking at the blue water below. Waves of light in conflict with hydrogen and oxygen
molecules, the water stripping blue out of the spectrum to let the rest pass through. Like life, really, or memory; How event
appeared depended on what you filtered them through.'
There were some fine turns of phrase, individual characters, and a whole raft of enticing ideas in this book. But I found it
quite hard going, rather like a film which tries to cram in three others, and by so doing, looses the focus on what makes us
care. By the end, my head was buzzing with elements I felt were not satisfactorily resolved, and a tatterdemalion shoot-out
ending. Jon Courtenay Grimwood certainly has talent, and the ability to create an interesting cast. But in this book, he's
suffered from too much of everything, and poor editing.
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading,
writing and throwing chips to the seagulls.
Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.