July 20, 2009
It’s hardly a secret that I have loved science fiction ever since I first discovered Robert A. Heinlein’s HAVE SPACE SUIT, WILL TRAVEL when I was a kid. It’s less well known that I am also a fan of mystery and crime fiction. So naturally, when you blend the two genres together, I sit up and take notice. A couple of titles that I’ve read recently do just that, albeit in completely different ways.
THE PREFECT, by Alastair Reynolds, is part of his popular “Chasm City” future history, an adroit and fast-paced blend of space opera and police procedural, original and exciting, teeming with cool stfnal concepts. A real page turner. The prefect of the title is a sort of space cop, Sipowicz in a spacesuit, or maybe Dirty Harry with a whiphound.
Henghis Hapthorn, the hero of THE SPIRAL LABYRINTH by Matthew Hughes, hails from a very different tradition. Hapthorn is a “discriminator,” a private eye of sorts, made up with a little Travis McGee, a sprinkle of Hercule Poirot, and a whole lot of Magnus Ridolph, Jack Vance’s famous “galactic effectuator.” Hapthorn’s picaresque adventures, an adroit blend of SF and fantasy, pay homage both to Vance’s Dying Earth fantasies and his classic Demon Prince future history. The two books could not be more different in tone, style, or intent, but they are both a tremendous amount of fun.