One-time cyberpunk Kadrey (Metrophage) has traded in his old religion and the metaphysics of the digital realm for a new and ancient one, the demonic folk tale. Sandman Slim is like a noir bunch of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a smart-mouth, street-smart leading man in place of the buxom teen - non-sensical, unbelievable, and one helluva good time.
James Stark, AKA Sandman Slim, the only human to survive Hell - much less live to tell the tale and eek out revenge for his tribulations - has come through the Darkness with special powers. He always was good at magic - not the hokey legerdemain that passes for entertainment among those with too much time on their hands - and that landed him with a bad crowd. Now heís amped up with secrets from The Man (if man the devil be) himself. Ice-picked Trotskyís friends were true-blue compared to Starkís comrades. And power struggles among the demon-allied take on epic proportions.
Like Gilgamesh or something from the Bhagavad Gita, Sandman Stark is out to settle an old score and achieve personal satisfaction. But his quest goes quantum when his prime adversary turns out to be shooting the moon in an attempt at world domination. This theme also gives rise to the novelís folkloric structure, in as much as itís one damn thing followed by another. Stark fucks up one nemesis only to be laid low by another - and so on, page turn for turn.
Sandman Slim is a fun read, thick if not deep, and Kadrey, as ever, has a wicked tongue that aims to activate the social-sneer reflex among all good wise-guy and -gal hipsters. As a noir thriller of the dark arts, itís a kick in the pants, but I wish Kadrey had paid more attention to his characters.
The most fun relationship in the book is between Stark and Allegra, a hip and cute video store clerk. Stark needs her - heís been in Hell for 15 years and doesnít know, for instance, what a cell phone is. Allegra helps him out, instructing him in the finer things in life, and, in return, is dropped some three-quarters of the way through the book after being developed as a potential... something.
Grad students will no doubt soon write dissertations arguing that this sort of forgetful sloppiness is, in fact, an aesthetic choice. And maybe it is, as the ragged plot arguably backs up the devil-may-care, slap-dash, self-deprecating attitude of James Stark the Sandman. Heís the one, after all, who says, I fucked up my life and now Iíve fucked up death. Cíest la vie - et le mort.