All Your Base Are Belong to Us

Flex-144dpiLast Friday, I took a hiatus from SFF to read cozy mysteries. I was feeling burned out. None of the books on my Kindle app tempted me. Every book I started seemed dull, or trite, or just somehow wrong. Reading for the Hugo awards ground me down, this year, when usually it’s a delight, full of surprising treats.

So I inhaled the first five Donna Andrews Meg Langslow stories in the same number of days, took a deep breath, and looked at my Kindle TBR screen. And a tiny miracle happened. All the books looked interesting, again. Funny how that happens.

So, then, what’s got a polecat, magic drugs, a bureaucrat, and bitchin’ boss fights? C’mon, guess! Okay, so the picture is a dead giveaway, but one must try.

Also, I cheated a bit, because Ferrett Steinmetz’s name has two T’s, so he’s not technically named after a domesticated North American weasel. But his debut novel, Flex kicks ass and takes names.

I delight in unconventional heroes. One of my favorite books of last year (barely edged out by Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice) was Charles Stross’s Neptune’s Brood, a space opera-mystery featuring an accountant. I wasn’t even planning to read Neptune’s Brood, because I’ve bounced off of every other Stross novel ever, but not only did I keep reading, I barely ate and didn’t sleep until I’d finished it.

Flex is another that kept me awake way past my “I have to be at work in how many hours?” bedtime. The hero, Paul Tsabo, is a one-legged insurance agent. He’s divorced–not very amicably–and hiding a very dangerous secret. Of course he has a dangerous secret, because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story, but Paul’s actions to protect and exploit that secret, the consequences of those actions, and the awesome boss battles that explode across the page, make Steinmetz the Crash Bandicoot of… what exactly? Is Flex science fiction? Is it fantasy? I think “science fantasy” might apply in this case, but who cares?

There are black hats and white hats and grey hats, and the hats switch, or the definitions do. There’s even a pork-pie hat, I kid you not. Speaking of which, while there is a child (Paul Tsabo’s daughter) in the novel, this is not YA. Not by a long shot. Flex is graphically violent; there are extremely adult themes, including questionably consensual sex. The language depends on the characters–Steinmetz is excellent at creating distinctive character voices–but some of those characters have very foul mouths. (Sniff.)

Flex is fun, but it’s also challenging, and unrelenting. I suggest that you make sure your safety device is securely fastened and that you keep your head, hands, arms, legs, and feet inside the ride at all times. Do not stand up or exit the ride while it is in motion.



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