Urban fantasy is well known for being a cess-pit of terrible writing produced by stunted, illiterate racists. It’s possibly the single most worthless genre in all of fiction. So of course when I was offered a copy of Sandman Slim by the proprietor of Requires Only That You Hate I jumped at the chance. Partially this was due to the front cover blurb describing the book as a “dirty-ass masterpiece” which is quite possibly the least appealing endorsement I’ve ever seen. I feel like I should be wearing gloves every time I pick up my eReader.
It turns out “dirty” is a pretty accurate description of this thing, but not in the way I think Richard Kadrey intended.
So there’s this dude called Stark. He has more names but refuses to use them for reasons that are too stupid to go into. Like all UF books this story takes place in a paranormal kitchen sink where every myth and legend bad writers have latched into over the last 100 years is true, hiding just under the surface of the mundane world. Magic is also real and it turns out our boy Stark is basically Harry Potter:
Magic really was always easy for me. At my fifth birthday party, I floated the family cat over to Tiffany Brown, a redhead I had a crush on, and dropped it on her. Tiffany didn’t get the joke and that was the end of my first romance.
When I was twelve, the teacher had us make clay animals in art class. I squeezed together some fat little birds. Then I made them fly around the room and out the window. I got suspended for a week for that one, though no one could explain to me exactly why.
I think that would probably garner more of an extreme reaction.
Prior to the story Stark met up with some more magicians and formed a magician club, but the leader and second most powerful became jealous of how awesome he is and had him dragged into hell in exchange for 5 million exp points. Eleven years later Stark escapes from hell and comes back for revenge. Then nothing much happens for 150 pages.
I’m serious. You’d think a demonic-magic fueled vengeance quest would be interesting but nope, it’s not. Among other deficiencies as a writer Kadrey seems to have an extreme reluctance to advance the plot in any way, with the result that Stark spends most of the book meeting a succession of one-note side characters. Any time something interesting threatens to happen Kadrey defuses the excitement so Stark can go back to his apartment to mope, or look for a job, or have lunch. Build up, confrontation, apartment moping. A good 75% of the book’s page count consists of that pattern of events repeating over and over again. There’s almost nothing resembling a plot- Stark just bounces from one confrontation to another, sometimes finishing up one pointless fight scene and then starting the next mini-boss encounter on the same page.
This isn’t helped by the fact that Kadrey takes a page from Jim Butcher’s playbook by tossing enough powers and magical items at Stark to remove any tension the story might have had. Uh oh, Stark is in a fight! Don’t worry, he did plenty of grinding in hell and now his defence stat is through the roof. Uh oh, Stark doesn’t know where to go next! Don’t worry, he has a magic coin that tells him where his next objective is. Uh oh, the door is locked! Don’t worry, Stark has a magic key that lets him teleport and a magic knife that can open any lock and it can also activate any car without setting off the alarm. Uh oh, Stark has no money! Don’t worry, he gets attacked by a coked-up rich guy he can mug.
He also doesn’t have any personality. Oh, the book tries its damnedest to convince us he’s a dark antihero constantly one step away from “painting the walls with spines and organs” but he never does anything particularly dark unless you count smarmy sarcasm. He used to have a girlfriend- the manic pixy dream girl who brought out the best in him, the ~one good thing he ever had in his life~, that sort of thing- but she doesn’t have a personality either so their relationship is a little difficult to get choked up over.
This is all presented with writing that could be described as “unpolished” if you’re feeling generous and “amateurish in the extreme” if you’re not. The absolute worst is when Kadrey tries to be funny, as he shares Jim Butcher’s almost savant-like talent for terrible jokes. Unfortunately Stark is one of those “witty” characters who uses cheesy one-liners the way most people use commas so we end up with this shit on damn near every page. The dude can’t describe a cup of coffee without deploying a terrible simile or grasping for tortured, universally awful metaphors. I could quote pages of this, but instead I’ll just show you the one that really stood out to me:
The bullets in my chest ache, almost like someone shot them in there.
Can’t you just picture Kadrey sitting in his parents basement, his tongue sticking out slightly with the exertion of spelling “ache” correctly while he suppresses a high-pitched nasally giggle at this classic Stark humour?
Sandman Slim isn’t offensively bad. It’s not entertainingly bad. It’s just crushingly, unrelentingly generic and dull. Kadrey has absolutely no skill a a writer and a stunted imagination that can only churn out pale imitations of material that was already terrible to begin with. No one has any reason to ever waste their time reading this book.
Wow, only 800 words? That was pretty short. There must be something else I can say about this. Are any of the side characters interesting? Not really. Immortal dude who breaks into French randomly and for no reason….. generic villains…… hey, there’s a whole bunch of notes here about this character called “Cherry Moon”. I don’t remember making these. Is someone messing with me? I might be suffering from amnesia. Hang on, let me read a few of these.
Okay so it’s this woman who used the super demon magic the villain gave her to regress physically back into childhood. That’s pretty tragic, I guess. Kind of interested to see how Kadrey handles this.
Crack open a pedophile’s piñata and Cherry Moon is the candy that falls out.
She’s a Lollipop Doll, one of a gang of girls who take their manga and anime a little too seriously. They all want to grow up to be Sailor Moon and Cherry had the magical skill to do it. Last time I saw her, she was in High Gothic Lolita drag, radiating rough sex and looking all of twelve years old.
I put in Cherry Moon’s name and get a link to a Web site. Click on the link and there she is, in perfect Sailor Moon drag, a rhinestoned cell phone in one hand and a pink teddy bear backpack in the other. She looks even younger than she did before I went Downtown. When I left, she could pass for twelve or thirteen. Now she looks like she’s eleven, tops.
I click the enter button and go to her site. It’s the same thing inside. A pretty little girl’s pretty little diary, full of gossip about her cool friends and the neat things they do together. Plus pages and pages of pictures of her in maybe a hundred different Gothic Lolita outfits, everything from Shirley Temple pinafores to pirates to a kimono-clad vampire with fake fangs. It’s a pretty convincing little girl’s site, only Cherry is about my age. If I didn’t know her better and know that this was all an act, I’d think she was retarded.
what is this
why are you writing this Kadrey
(also I don’t think you know what “gothic lolita” actually means but anyway)
Now Lollipop Dolls seems to be an expensive store on Rodeo Drive selling imported Japanese anime and monster-movie toys, games, and custom Gothic Lolita clothing. Now I know what Mason gave Cherry as her reward.
LOLLIPOP DOLLS IS like some weird little girl’s hunting lodge. The heads and faces of every Japanese cartoon character and monster are hung on the walls like trophies. Their plastic guts are in model kits on the shelves and their skins are draped on padded hangers in long rows of animal prints and Little Bo Peep frills.
What the fuck is this place supposed to be? They’re selling anime masks or something? Why are the model kits described as “plastic guts”? Kadrey you put a fucking Battle Angel Alita reference in the book mere pages after this scene, you’re obviously familiar with this shit.
When I turn around, there’s a platoon of twelve-year-old Cutie Honey types staring up at me, letting me know that I’m extremely not welcome. It’s Village of the Damned with ankle socks.
This is so fucking stupid I don’t even
Wait, Cutie Honey? God damn that’s a pretty obscure reference to just throw out there, dude, even for anime fans. Also Cutie Honey wears a leotard and knee-high boots and has gigantic boobs so I’m not sure how this scene is supposed to remind us of her.
One of the Lolitas walks over to me. She barely comes up to my chest.
What comes out of this mouth of Lolita in a pink ball gown and yellow ribbons isn’t a cartoon squeak, but the voice of a thirtysomething bar chick who’s had too many late nights and smoked too many un-filtered Luckies
STOP USING THAT WORD IT’S CREEPY
THIS IS LITERALLY THE DUMBEST THING I’VE EVER READ
I’ve never been chewed out by a fourth grader before. It’s all I can do to keep from laughing. She must see it in my face because the next thing I know, she’s snapped out a white furry-handled tanto knife and is pressing it under my chin hard enough to break the skin.
furry handled tanto knife
I sweep my arm in front of me, faster than she can see. All of a sudden I’m holding the knife and she has a sore wrist. The first thing she does is register surprise. Then fury. She steps back into the pack and they all strike cartoon fighting poses. A few more of them have knives out.
“She can call me at this number. Tell her a dead friend is back in town and that she better call him soon or he’s going to come back here and spank her.”
I don’t even
what is this
Why would anyone decide it was a good idea to write this shit? Why would anyone decide to publish it?
Did I mention that Stark repeatedly encounters short, pixie-ish adult women who he describes as “looking all of 12 years old”? Can it be doubted that Richard Kadrey wrote the above quoted scenes with one hand?
This is what his official author photo on Amazon looks like. Look at that wife beater. Look at those tattoos. He runs a fetish photography website that I am too scared to even look at.
Look at the Amazon page, and behold the fact that this pile of bullshit got four stars. Watch the trailer and note the enthusiastic endorsement from Charlaine Harris. Now read the top rated “most helpful” reader review:
And then, suddenly, it all makes sense.