Friday, January 09, 2009

KOP & Ex-KOP by Warren Hammond

When cultural appropriation isn't

Manuel Ramos is buried under a ton of deadlines, and as soon as we can find a shovel to dig him out, he'll be returned to this, his regular posting day. Speaking of Ramos, I'm not into cop/detective/crime fiction like he is, but at last summer's Denver WorldCon, I was lucky enough to share some food, time and drink with local-writer-made-good Warren Hammond. For a güero, the guy's charming, friendly and, despite a Clark Kent veneer, worth being around.

Because of that, I got copies of his futuristic noir KOP and Ex-KOP novels. Since I love noir and science fiction I figured at least those aspects of his work would be worth my time and money. I was wrong.

KOP contains some of the strongest prose, striking noir, and original world I've read in years.

As far as SciFi, it's not your typical, formulaic future world. Check this: the planet Lagarto (Spanish for lizard because this tropical-like world's got one on or under every doormat and kitchen shelf) was colonized by Mexican scientists! Not Spanish conquistadores or Mexican drug lords, but científicos. This alone was refreshing, at least to this reader.

To deal with one question La Bloga readers might be asking--cultural appropriation--I've got to say Warren maybe's deduced what a lot of cultural-appropriating novelists have yet to figure out: it's better not to exploit too much of what's foreign to you. To his credit, Warren doesn't try passing his world off as Chicanolandia. He doesn't stretch his premise about the planet's name and founders much into the body of the work. Yes there are surnames and references, but all incidental or extraneous to the plot. Even what I think is the biggest "inconsistency" in his Lagarto world--the absence of dialogue influenced by Spanish--works for me. Otherwise, I might have felt differently.

Now, about the writing. From the cover quote: "KOP is about as good as noir crime gets since Dashiell Hammett stopped writing. Yes, I know what I just said." (David Drake) If this was on the cover of Warren's second book Ex-KOP, I'd agree with this Drake guy. But the writing in KOP is better, more sophisticated than Hammett's. Yes, one day even the classics get replaced, and should be.

Instead of just telling you what I think, I give you a little of Warren's own words. What you need to know first is that KOP is replete with this style, crazily filled with his choice of language, bien gordo with this richness hidden in a SciFi novel. Now, sit back and let these words pica your lips and saturate your tongue, swish them around some, and then let them storm your literary gullet, and you'll see why Mario Acevedo, of X-Rated Bloodsuckers notoriety, said about Warren's writing: "Raw. Visceral. Compelling. As unforgettable as a stabbing." I'd add, you'll find yourself repeatedly rubbing that wound with pleasure. All quotes below are from KOP, wherein I find a more masterly prose than its sequel. (Sorry, Warren, I call them as I confuse them.) These are not favorite passages; they're just what I randomly flipped to.

What the planet's like:
I crossed the street, weaving between the puddles and piles of rotting garbage. Geckos scattered out of my way, running for cover under green weeds that had pushed up through the rippled pavement. Every few months, the city would come through on a slash-and-burn. They used to poison the encroaching jungle growth until people started to notice tumor-ridden fish belly-up in the Koba Riber. Citizens' groups got worked up over their health and forced the city to change methods. Now, they blasted the streets with flamethrowers, crisping anything green, leaving only the smoldering stench of burned trash and vegetation in their wake. (p 13.)

About the gritty protagonist:
She listened with rapt attention as I open-booked my life for her. I could tell her anything--judgment free. I told her about Tenttown. I told her how my father would tie me up while he beat my mother. I showed her the rope-burn scars. I told her how I was always getting kicked out of school for fighting. When she asked if I had any regrets, I told her that I wished I had killed my father before his liver beat me to it.

"Really? You wouldn't feel guilty killing your own father?"

"The bastard deserved it. I deserved the chance to kill him myself. His liver robbed me of my vengeance. It was my only chance to see the world as a fair place.

She wouldn't let it drop. She kept asking questions about my father and how I could possibly kill him, my own flesh and blood. He beat my mother. I didn't know how much plainer I could make it." (p. 113)

Cover-wise, while the artwork is fine, I couldn't help but see a disgruntled Pierce Brosnan in the Kop portrayal of protagonist Juno. That said, it fit his character. What's funny is that the sequel's Ex-Kop cover of a more hardened, down-and-out Juno reminds me of a hung-over Bruce Campbell, half of which is in keeping with the second installent, where Juno's lost his career and turned private eye. Judge yourself from the side-by-side pics below.

Here's the publisher's blurb:
"Juno Mozambe is a dirty cop... The colony world Lagarto boomed when an indigenous plant was discovered to yield a uniquely intoxicating brandy...but when Earth synthesized a copy, Lagarto's economy crashed. Now, like many Lagartans, Juno lives in quiet desperation. But it wasn't always like this. When he was a young cop in capital city Koba's Office of Police, he and his partner worked to break the drug trade. Now, his old partner is the beleaguered chief of police, and Juno is a cop on the take, broken in body and in spirit.

"Despite his past sins and present problems, some small part of Juno has not given up hope. He and his beautiful, young rookie partner are assigned to a particularly ugly murder case that makes no sense...until he realizes that it's a setup to get rid of him and the chief. But it's also a chance to blow the lid of a huge scandal—an offworld plot to crush the slim hope Lagarto has to regain its economic independence. If he can break the case it would mean a new beginning for him and his world...if the conspirators don't break him first." (DOR, Tom Doherty)

Warren Hammond bio from his website:
"Warren grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, married his wife Kathy, and settled in the Platt Park neighborhood of Denver where he can usually be found typing away at the local coffee shop or browsing the selection at the Tattered Cover.

"His first novel, KOP, was published by Tor Books in 2007. Its sequel, Ex-KOP, hit shelves in October 2008. Currently he is writing KOP Killer, the third book in the KOP series. Splitting his time between devouring science fiction and classic crime noir, he lists among his important influences Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, Jim Thompson and James Ellroy. Warren is a serious music listener, specializing in blues, reggae and surf. Always eager to see new places, Warren and Kathy have traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, they’re always up for a new adventure."

It's too late for me to recommend this as a Xmas present (although I did gave away a couple), but at the start of New Year 2009, which we may describe to our great grandchildren as the Worst Depression, reading Kop and its sequels may be the perfect way to increase your tolerance for pain, hardboil your heart against depression, and still stoke the fires of a hope that American (gringo) originality, genuine passion(ate writing) and creative talent are not following the economy into mediocrity.
Ex-KOP = Bruce Campbell?

1 comment:

Geordi Calrissian said...

It's interesting that in both our reviews, we mentioned the cover art for KOP. Although, I found an issue with it. Great review. Check mine out when you get time: