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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"kop" by Warren Hammond

Read An Excerpt HERE

Thanks to Tor/Forge I recently received a copy of a book I had never heard of. What immediately grabbed my attention was the superbly gritty artwork courtesy of Chris McGrath. Next were the blurbs, which described the book as a noir-ish sci-fi. Finally, there was the fact that “kop” was Warren Hammond’s debut. As you may or may not know, I love discovering new authors and I can never get enough futuristic noir, so reviewing “kop” seemed like a no-brainer. That said, “kop” didn’t work quite as well for me as I was hoping.

For starters, the book is set far in the future – the year 2787 – on the world Lagarto, a planet that once promised colonists a start to a glorious new life full of opportunities and financial prosperity. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, Lagarto lost any value it had as a planet and was basically cut off from Earth, the other colonized worlds and the technological advancements that they enjoyed. As a result, the lizard-infested jungle planet, specifically its cities like Koga which is where the story takes place, has become a rundown relic of the past, strangely reminiscent of any urbanite setting that you might find in countless film or book noir. I mean this is the future right, so aside from the use of holograms, laser weaponry and a couple of other advancements, why is Koga just like any other typical noir-esque American city? I mean you have the same type of politicians, police force, legal system, news media, and religion; problems with drugs, prostitution & corruption; a divided social status between the rich, poor & middle class; and so on. Heck, even the lingo is the same! To be fair, Mr. Hammond does try to offer explanations for all of the above including why the planet still uses our same calendar, but the details are kind of sparse and didn’t fully satisfy my curiosity. In short, you just have to take a leap of faith with the setting, and to be honest, despite the futuristic background which offers some interesting variants from the norm, “kop” is basically crime noir through and through.

So, like any noir, good or bad, there are archetypes to be expected. First off, all of the stereotypical characters are in attendance: you have hardened protagonist Juno Mozambe, a corrupt vice cop with a nasty temper, a good heart, and a marriage on the rocks. There’s also a rookie detective in Maggie Orzo who hasn’t been tainted yet by the corruption that is found everywhere in Koba including crooked police, a power-hungry Mayor, dangerous criminal warlords, and various other sordid types that you would expect in a story of this nature. Secondly, “kop” is told in a first-person narrative (Juno), which seems to have become an obligatory feature in a noir novel, along with flashbacks, a couple of which are included in the book. And lastly, the plot is vintage noir, blending elements of crime, mystery, police procedural and suspense/thriller. As usual with these types of stories, “kop” starts out simple enough with a murder investigation, but as the book progresses, the mystery becomes more tangled, machinations & betrayals abound from every angle, and the stakes become significantly higher…

Regarding the author, I thought Warren Hammond’s writing was a bit bland. That’s not to say that the author was terrible mind you, just that the writing seemed to lack any distinguishable features and was more mechanical than anything, competent if you like. So the pacing was solid, maintaining a nice balance between the action and the drama. Characterization was a bit shallow, particularly with the cookie-cutter supporting characters, but at least Juno, who’s not your typical ‘hero’, was well-developed and I enjoyed the flashbacks, especially his relationship with wife Niki who harbors her own set of demons. The story itself doesn’t really offer anything new to the genre, especially if you’ve read or seen any kind of crime noir at all. However, despite the all-too familiar plot devices, there’s enough sci-fi elements introduced to keep the book somewhat fresh, and Mr. Hammond does offer a strong understanding & passion for the material, though there are inconsistencies. For instance, if offworlders are so much more advanced technologically than the locals, why would they even worry about Koga’s primitive judicial system? It seems to me the offworlders would be able to commit any crime they want, without fear of repercussion… There are others, but this is the one that annoyed me the most. As far as the tone of the book, there’s plenty of cursing, graphic violence and a bit of sex, but for some odd reason, in spite of the novel’s adult nature, I just felt that the book played it too safe.

In the end, I enjoyed “kop” enough that I’ll probably read its sequel “Ex-Kop”, especially since the ending leaves you wanting more and I’m interested to see where the story takes Juno. However, I thought the book focused too much on being a crime noir, was disappointingly by-the-book & formulaic, and didn’t take full advantage of its futuristic setting, which offered a lot of intriguing possibilities. Hopefully with the sequel, which is already written I believe and due out in 2008, Mr. Hammond will be able to correct some of the issues I had “kop”, while further developing his writing style. Personally, I’d like to see a lot more of the science fiction elements explored in “Ex-Cop” ;). Regardless of what Warren Hammond decides to do with the book, the sequel, like its predecessor, should be another solidly entertaining entry in the field of sci-fi noir…

6 comments:

Tia Nevitt said...

Great review! This was on my "possibility" list. I've never read crime noir, so perhaps I'll be able to approach it with fresh eyes.

Robert said...

If you do read it, I'd be interested on your thoughts. For a really great futuristic noir novel, check out "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan. A personal fave :D

Matt Wallington said...

I thoroughly enjoyed "KOP" and did not find Hammond's style bland at all. I found his work to be fresh and I appreciated that he did not pander to the futurist/sci-fi audience like many authors do. By the way...it's K-O-B-A, not Koga. Makes me wonder if you actually read it before critiquing it...

Robert said...

Matt, thanks for the feedback. I do apologize for the spelling error, but I don't see how you can make the jump from that to wondering if I even read the book ;) After all, if you had read the whole review, then you would know that I enjoyed the book, but I just didn't think it was as strong as other futuristic noir out there...

Dan S. said...

This book is really dope, if you took into account that this is an analogy for the third world today, than it is much more brilliant than you give it credit for. Bland is definitely not how i would describe it, this book has some of the best dialogue i have read in a while.

Robert said...

Dan, thanks for your comment! Looks like a lot of people are disagreeing with me, but then again, that's fine with me :) I don't expect everyone to share the same opinion as me, and regardless of what I think of a book, the main purpose of Fantasy Book Critic is to bring awareness to titles that readers may not normally hear about.

Regarding my 'bland' remark, as far as style and dialogue, I just don't think the book compares to someone like Warren Ellis, Tarantino, Charlie Huston or Richard K. Morgan...

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