Friday, September 03, 2021

53. StreetLethal by Steven Barnes

I found this in the very pleasant Zoinks Music and Books on west Bloor street in Toronto.  I liked this store because it was small and open but the shelves were stocked with a nice selection of used paperbacks in sci-fi, fantasy and crime.  It wasn't trying to be anything fancy while remaining easy browse with a good selection.  I grabbed StreetLethal because of the trashy 80s cyberpunk cover. 

It was the kind of read I was looking for, a gritty urban dystopic sci-fi with lots of action.  Unfortunately, it is kind of a mess.  The story contains too much so that much is left poorly explained and narratives die off.  It starts off with Aubry Knight, a weightless boxer, who I thought was just a contender, getting  betrayed and sent to a maximum security prison underground in Death Valley.  This was all really cool, the scenes of future LA and the idea of the prison itself.  But even early on there is a lot of time spent on Aubry's psychology, which is really unclear.  Somehow he is a total badass, yet also a rube and underling in the criminal organization that betrayed him.  He escapes, which was also cool, and meets a prostitute with a plastiskin implant that also makes her somehow unique, yet she too is sort of on the skids.  

He goes for payback against the gang and they end up in an underground society of scavengers and a much grander plotline involving a new drug that works with couples.  This is where the story really started to drag for me as there is a lot of time spent on their relationship most of which was neither compelling nor convincing.  They are both supposed to be damaged and need to learn to love themselves, each other, the Scavenger society but they are fighting and then not.  Then the drug is introduced and turns them into total junkies in about two pages.  It all got quite tiresome.  The bigger problem was that I never really felt a foundation of either of their personalities or backgrounds, so their struggles which were already somewhat incoherent, held no weight for me.

There was some cool ideas here and the cyberpunk ideas and locations were quite interesting at times.  One really impressive thing was that the future tech rarely felt dated, which is tough to pull off. It also had some decent fight writing.  It's too bad some of the major elements were not well thought out, especially the drug, which was either socially devastating and yet also going to bring love into the world.  The acknowledgements section suggests that Barnes was quite connected, perhaps in LA, as he drops some big martial arts names (Danny Inosanto for one) and sci-fi authors.

Damn, I just realized after reading some reviews that the cover art depicts a white guy but Aubry in the book is black.  White supremacy, indeed.

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