So, in my earlier post about Readercon, I mentioned meeting Jeffrey Thomas, author of Deadstock, and a fellow member of the Solaris writing stable. During the meeting, I was worried he might ask me what I'd thought of his book, since I'd mentioned to him a while back that I'd bought a copy... only, I never got around to reading it, even though I knew I'd be seeing him.
Part of the reason was, I'd read part of the prologue of the book and found it difficult to get into. It's mostly following a character wandering around a futuristic cityscape looking for his girlfriend, but it didn't engage me all that much because the prologue doesn't contain any dialogue, except for one brief line from memory. Also, the prologue just had the feel that it was being written about a throw away character. I knew from what I'd read about the book that the protagonist was a shape-shifting detective named Jeremy Stake, and plainly this character wasn't him. So, I lost interest after the first five or six pages.
Fortunately, on the plane back from Readercon, I had the book in the top of my backpack and pulled it out, figuring I'd give it one more shot. I skipped the prologue and started on Chapter One. WOW! It was like an entirely different book. Suddenly, I understood how he'd gotten a blurb from China Mieville on the cover. Once Stake enters the book and the dialogue starts, the book comes to life. Stake is a great vehicle for conversations--he suffers from "confused flesh," a mutation that causes him to start looking like a person that he's looking at, so, when he talks to people, he slowly starts looking like them, causing a range of reactions from freaked out to fascinated. The other characters reveal hidden parts of themselves as they react to him--it's really quite a masterful device for bringing the supporting cast to life.
The other real strength of the book is the sheer scope of imagination Thomas throws onto each page. Nifty SF gadgets like Ouji phones, marketed to teenage girls... the phones ring when a damned soul comes on line, the the girls tease and taunt them. It's so disturbingly wrong, and yet so precisely right that you buy the idea instantly. At another point, he's walking through a factory where there are these legless, headless cows floating in tanks... nutrients are pumped in through a tube where the neck should be, and waste is sucked from the other end. It's the ultimate in factory farming, and if anyone has ever visited a commericial chicken farm you will recognize the idea as one corporate farmers would embrace in a heartbeat. Thomas makes you keenly aware that any advance in technology that can improve human life is also just as likely to get twisted around and warped into something that perverts human life. It's a fairly bleak vision, but it doesn't come across as depressing, as the sheer weirdness and creepiness of the images he throws out are simply fascinating.
The plot is terrific once it's underway, with a growing sense of inevitable doom. I honestly felt the possibility as I was starting the final chapter that no one--not even Stake--was going to get out of this novel alive. He kills off characters that I was certain he'd never kill.
One minor gripe with the novel is that Stake doesn't have much of a personal tie to the actual plot line. He's only involved with the other characters because he's been hired to be involved... in fact, there's even a line of dialogue near the end where his employer asks Stake why he cares enough to face the danger he's about to face and Stake answers, "Because you're paying me to." Yet, in a way, Stakes lack of personal involvement turns him into an objective camera through which we observe the rest of the story. The coolness saves the novel from slipping into melodrama as some really horrible things start happening to other characters.
All in all, it's a darn fine read.