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Monday, November 16, 2009

"Red Claw" by Philip Palmer (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "Red Claw" HERE
Official Philip Palmer Website
Read FBC Review (R. Thompson) of "Debatable Spaces" HERE

Last year Philip Palmer published a very original and superb (imho) debut "Debatable Spaces". Unusual and daring for sff in structure and style, that novel pushed at the stylistic boundaries of the genre within a traditional space-opera framework. Robert Thompson reviewed Debatable Spaces for FBC and I wholeheartedly agree with his summation:

"In conclusion, Philip Palmer’sDebatable Space” is one heck of a trip. It’s ambitious, original, a self-contained story, laugh-out-loud funny, gleefully violent, and wildly unpredictable."

So I was very eager for Mr. Palmer's next novel and I read "Red Claw" on receiving it. A page turner and keeping my unabated attention to the end, I felt though that the author retreated from the cutting edge of the genre into more traditional and well worn sf territory so from that point of view I felt Red Claw somewhat of a step back, however technically more accomplished it was.

Overview/Analysis: A standalone "expedition, planet with monsters, rogue soldiers and mad scientists" novel set in the same universe as Debatable Spaces, "Red Claw" reminded me strongly of David Drake's Redliners, though Mr. Palmer's novel is quite strongly anti-militaristic as opposed to the unabashed military bent of veteran Drake's work.

Quite accomplished technically since it kept many of the literary flourishes of Debatable Spaces but it also managed to eliminate the narrative walls in which the earlier novel sometimes ran into - so the pages turn by themselves despite the frequent changes of style, pov's and narration pace - I thought that if you were a newbie to the "planet with monsters" sf-subgenre, this novel could blow you away. However for a veteran reader of such, the novel while very good does not bring anything new and this subgenre strongly depends on novelty since by its structure, characters are rarely more than sketches.

There were lots of great scenes, emotion and suspense, but I thought the total result somewhat less then the sum of its parts since "Red Claw" lacks a total integration of its main revenge/escape plot into the "planet with monsters" setup, so while we get some resolution at the end, there is also a strong "oh, we could have switched the monsters with a dangerous maze or something similar and nothing would have changed".

Since the novel keeps you absorbed end to end and the monsters are still cool despite their somewhat redundancy as far as the big picture goes, I am recommending it without qualms, but I wish Mr. Palmer will get back to the ambition and panache exhibited in Debatable Spaces and combine that with the narrative energy and technical execution from this one.

Overall if you loved Debatable Spaces or you want cool monsters, try this one since it will give you a rollicking and imaginative adventure!


Anonymous said...

I've just abandoned this today. A disappointment of a novel, poorly written, unconvincing and unengaging, and dealing with concepts which have been better handled by other authors

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