by Richard Kadrey
Cover Artist: Shutterstock
Review by Wes Breazeale
Harper Voyager Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062334480
Date: 04 November 2014 List Price $14.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Richard Kadrey is perhaps best known for his urban fantasy series featuring James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim. The popularity of the Sandman Slim novels has brought greater attention to his earlier works and precipitated a reprinting of his first novel, Metrophage.
Long before he honed his own style and voice, Kadrey was a fan of the cyberpunk works of William Gibson, Rudy Rucker, and Bruce Sterling, among others. First published in 1988, Metrophage features many of the tropes of the cyberpunk genre, but is oddly lacking in others.
Set somewhere in the mid- to late-21st century in an economically depressed and largely run down Los Angeles, Metrophage feels like a cross between Blade Runner and The Road Warrior, two films that likely provided further inspiration. The elite live in protected enclaves, corporations have lavish office buildings, and those on the bottom of society live in scavenged spaces throughout the city.
Our protagonist, Jonny, is of course a bit of an anti-hero. He's a drug runner for some of Los Angeles' major crime bosses, but once worked for the Committee for Public Safety--a semi-official, quasi-military police force that rules the underclass through intimidation and brute force. Jonny is now on a mission of vengeance, seeking out a mid-level dealer who killed one of his friends.
From here, the plot revolves around a variety of exciting set pieces and action scenes, with some political theory woven in throughout. Jonny's single minded determination lands him in the crosshairs of Colonel Zamora, head of the Committee, as well as reuniting him with some long lost friends and new allies. He finds himself racing throughout L.A. following leads and directions, never seeming to be making his own decisions.
Unfortunately, much of the book feels like a series of interesting ideas in search of a greater plot. In many scenes, Kadrey is able to paint a vivid picture for the reader, and to some extent an even greater picture of the world in which it all takes place. But there is a middle layer missing that robs the other two of a degree of context.
Even in his first book, it is clear that Kadrey has an interesting style of writing. Having read his later works, one can definitely feel the rawness of this first novel. His sense of humor is there, and a boiling anger underneath as well, but he also demonstrates some classic characteristics of a first-time writer--occasional over descriptiveness, a few meandering plotlines, and some serendipitous occurrences to keep things moving when he has painted himself into a corner. Nothing that ruins the reading experience, but certainly not as polished as his later works.
This reprint of Metrophage may be for completists only--fans of Kadrey's writing or those interested in a historical look back at a cyberpunk book they might have missed. But those completists will be very happy, as this edition of Metrophage is nicely done. Each copy of the first edition is signed by the author and includes an insightful interview with Corey Doctorow.