Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis by Bradley W. Schenck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An unusual book, in an enjoyable way; full of the tropes of 1930s pulp adventure, and yet told in a matter-of-fact, wry style rather than the hyperbolic manner of the early pulps. The chapter headings are the most hyperbolic thing about it; everything else is, if anything, understated. The hero approaches the problems he faces systematically, drawing on extensive practice, and apart from calling himself "Dash" is almost self-effacing. The main female character is firmly assertive about not being excluded from danger, and Dash is smart enough not to argue too much.
I was concerned early on when a number of short scenes introduced separate characters who were, it seemed at first, pursuing unconnected agendas. This is a style I've seen used before in humourous fiction, and it can easily lead to an overcomplicated plot full of underdeveloped characters - a sure formula for me to lose interest.
The plot was complicated, and the characters were not the deepest I've ever seen, but they were as deep as they needed to be for pulp fiction. And before too long, their stories started to intersect.
I did enjoy the way in which everyone, except the villains, just took it as a basic truth that mechanical people were people just like biological people, and that no right-thinking person would deny them equal rights. There are a large number of good people in this book, and they cooperate very well. Even the Priests of the Spider God have their code of honour. The outright villains are an engineer who wants everything to be tidy, and two small children.
I'm a difficult audience for comedy, and not easily amused, but I was amused by this. Recommended.
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