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Lucifer's Dragon
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Pocket paperback £6.99

review by Patrick Hudson

Lucifer's Dragon is the story of NewVenice, which sits in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Taiwan on bio-engineered coral and the rusting hulks of decommissioned tankers, whalers and container ships. It is a recreation of the great renaissance trading city, its palazzos home to the scheming hereditary executives of the massive CySat corporation, while the ancient ships that surround it teem with an underclass of cyber-enhanced whores, junkies and cops.
   Two stories run through this novel. The first tells of the foundation of NewVenice in the early 21st century by Passionata (nee Catherine) DiOrchi, scion of a staid American crime family who wakes from her hippy haze in Bangkok with an idea stolen from a hapless tourist and some pride to reclaim. The second story takes place a century later, when the murder of the Doge of NewVenice sets NVPD officer Angeli and Karo - the daughter of Count Ryuchi, the most powerful member of the CySat board - on a path that will lead to the end of the NewVenice that has ossified into everything Passionata fought against.
   This is a re-issue of Grimwood's second cyberpunk thriller, published in 1998. It's a little rougher than his later work, but fans will take great pleasure in the typical Grimwood elements of corporate dystopia, hi-tech weaponry and plenty of lovingly described violence. The plot is pure film noir, with a tough but honest cop battling with his conscience, political machinations, and femmes fatales aplenty, including - in its more literal sense - Razz the bodyguard and assassin. The action is relentless and the body count high: as Grimwood pushes the reader into some pretty nasty places, but manages to turn them around before they curdle.
   Grimwood's inflinching attitude to violence is contrasted by his detailed descriptions of future tech, complete with familiar brand names, model numbers and convincing technical specifications. The mechanical precision sets off the squishy, visceral nature of the sex and violence, contrasting flesh and machine, one of the great themes of cyberpunk.
   Lucifer's Dragon is painted in short splashes of dense description and crisp dialogue, characterised by well-aimed vocabulary and metaphorical economy. It unfolds effortlessly in Grimwood's hands, giving it a deceptively glossy surface: underneath, it's incredibly dense, every word packing meaning and resonance into the characterisation and satirical themes. He employs a distinctive multiple viewpoint narration, flitting from character to character in a way that sometimes makes it difficult to tell who is going to be important later on and who is going to end up dead on the next page, keeping things tense and exciting.
   This nimble way in words easily distracts the reader from the outlandishness of the plot - Grimwood has to pull a few gods out of the machine (quite literally, at one point, in classic cyberpunk fashion) to keep things moving along, and some of the drama is underdeveloped, particularly in the story of Passionata. The foundation of NewVenice lays important foundations for the climax of the novel, but is a rather flimsy yarn on its own.
   This novel carries its influences with pride and Grimwood's genre savvy is evident throughout. The violent corporate world portrayed is like those of Jack Womack and Alexander Besher, while the anarchistic free trade port is an old libertarian cyberpunk idea, later explored in Neal Stephenson's structurally similar Cryptonomicon. Grimwood brings his hyper-contemporary, techno-centred style to the mix, which suits the subject matter perfectly. Re-released in the groovy design of redRobe, remix and his Pashazade series, this is a welcome opportunity to catch the early work of one of the new stars of British SF.
Lucifer's Dragon

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