It’s too damned cold to be the beginning of June! I swear, if I have to endure another cold summer, I’m going to have to sic the flying ninja monkeys on somebody at The Weather Channel. Seriously, it’s been a cold, wet, miserable few days here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, so I’ve been staying in my Happy Place. Me, some ginger ale, my Kindle and my netbook have been very happy and warm inside my pillow fort, and I am not coming out until the temps top eighty degrees again (that’s twenty-seven-ish for you Celsius types). I want my sauna-like Appalachian summer, darn it all, and I’m going to throw a tantrum until I get it!
Okay, that’s not strictly true. The other night, Big Sister, who is a terrific cook, sent over a bowl of something that involved chicken, peppers and onions, a ricotta sauce and gnocchi (she likes challenging my palate, and I think she’s trying to fatten me up after the Long Illness, which I’m not opposed to). I had never tried gnocchi before, but it was very very nice. Nice enough that I am going to try making it myself. I’ve never made pasta before — it looks intimidating, and I don’t think I have the right tools — but gnocchi doesn’t seem to require anything more than a bowl and a knife, which I can totally provide. If it goes well, it may land on the dinner rotation here in our treetop fortress.
So on to business. I’ve mentioned before that I have fairly loose parameters for what defines a genre. I think a measurable amount of urban fantasy could arguably fall into the Pulp vein because so much of it plays on the Hardboiled Detective tropes, which are solidly pulpy. I also think that it can still be steampunk even if there’s not a dirigible to be seen. Genres are as much about attitude and tone as they are about the props, and, as I pointed out in my last book review, having the right props doesn’t automatically mean the story wins any cred from me.
But I understand that others can feel very differently. So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I present you with the Nightside series by Simon R. Green. Why do I think it belongs here on a blog focused on Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp? Because, while our hero constantly claims he is no great shakes at investigation, the stories fall very strongly into the Hardboiled Detective category, in tone, approach and style, and that says Pulp to me, as I said above. The hardboiled detective started out as a classic pulp genre (hell, it helped define pulp as a classification of fiction), long before it went mainstream.
So, Simon R. Green is a prolific and respected British author, who has done other books besides Nightside. Memorably, he did the Secret Histories (starting with “The Man with the Golden Torc), as well as Hawk and Fisher, Ghostfinders and the Deathstalker series. As you can tell, his focus is on science fiction and fantasy, my favorite words in the whole English language. But Nightside is his most well known work and arguably his best written (personally, I couldn’t get past the Marty Stu-ness of the Secret Histories, and his Ghostfinders just didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons, though your mileage may vary. I may change my opinion in the future — I am a big one for re-reading — but for now, I’ll pass).
- Something from the Nightside
- Agents of Light and Darkness
- Nightingale’s Lament
- Hex and the City
- Paths Not Taken
- Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
- Hell to Pay
- The Unnatural Inquirer
- Just Another Judgement Day
- The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
- A Hard Day’s Night
- The Bride Wore Black Leather
- Tales from the Nightside (short fiction anthology)
The Nightside is a series of twelve novels (plus one collection of short stories) that depict the adventures of one John Taylor, a private investigator, native of the Nightside, and the Chosen One of at least one prophecy. Being the Chosen One is never a good thing, but in the Nightside, it’s especially bad. Which is why, when John Taylor finally left the Nightside, he stayed gone up to now. But at the beginning of the first book, the search for a missing/runaway teen brought him back to his old haunts. From there, things just snowballed and he took his old place back in the darkness.
So what is the Nightside? It’s a fictional inner neighborhood of London, older than the city itself. It’s always night time here, 3:00 am to be exact, “the midnight of the soul,” some call it. John Taylor describes it as “a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul… or someone else’s. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends.” Every possible vice you can think of (and several you wish you hadn’t thought of) is practiced here. Moreover, what is impossible in the outside world is common as dirt in Nightside: angels, magic, monsters, time travel, carnivorous cars, homunculi, you name it, it’s here and probably causing trouble.
- Angels in the Nightside are not benevolent guardians in the Nightside. They are messengers of God, and scary as hell.
- Gods are real, all of them, and they hang out in the Street of Gods. Stay out. No, really; I don’t care how good a person you’ve been, seriously, stay out.
- Time slips are invisible, undetectable holes in time. Sometimes people fall out of them and are stuck in the Nightside present forever. Sometimes people from this side fall in, and are never seen again. Watch where you walk.
- Cars are dangerous. They go way too fast, brake pedals are for pussies, and cars like the flavor of human flesh. Cross the street at your own peril.
- Ghosts can actually be pretty cool. Knowing you have nothing more to lose is probably very relaxing.
- Houses can and will eat you. It’s not pretty.
John Taylor plies his trade, detective and/or thug for hire, here in the Nightside, and keeps the business running more or less. He is hired to find missing girls, figure out why an up-and-coming singer’s beautiful voice is driving people to commit suicide, figure out why the power grid for the Nightside (they’re only nominally connected to the London grid) is failing, things like that. But, as is inevitable for hardboiled detective, nothing is ever straightforward. Yes, he has a small but useful magical talent: when he concentrates, he can feel where something is, no matter how far away or how well hidden. An inborn magical GPS for missing stuff is very handy for a PI for hire. On the other hand, even with magical GPS, it’s hard to play the PI game when your mother is a demigod and is weaving the destruction of the world when she’s not stalking you. Or when an army of nearly-unkillable homunculi are looking to destroy you. Or just when all the scary things from your nightmares think your name is a curse word and your body is great target practice.
To say John Taylor has “friends” is to stretch the blanket a little too much. But he has colleagues and contacts who at least respect him. There’s Walker, who represents The Authorities. Walker is more or less the police force of the Nightside. No, he doesn’t care if you kill people, steal, rape, pillage, meh, who cares, so long as Nightside itself is protected. Walker is an old friend of John’s dad. Walker and John do NOT like one another, but neither is above using the other when the situation merits.
Alex Morrisey owns the bar John usually hangs out in. Alex is a direct male descendant of Merlin. The Merlin, the one and only. Sounds cool. But a spell cast by Merlin means that Alex can never leave the bar, ever ever. Not for a date, not for a quick piss in the alley round back. This makes Alex more than a little sour; he wears all black all the time because “there’s nothing darker.” He is the closest thing John has to a friend, and Alex has bailed John out a couple times. Then there’s Suzie Shooter, bloodthirsty bounty hunter (“dead or alive” means “dead, because there’s less paperwork”) who often partners with John on jobs when he needs muscle; she’s also his love interest, for a certain value of the term “love interest.” Their relationship is complicated. Then there are characters like Dead Boy, the Walking Man, Razor Eddie, and The Collector.
The prose style is classic first person, delightfully Chandleresque. It’s a pity Humphrey Bogart is dead; he’s the only one who could do justice to an audiobook for Nightside. Green’s style is spartan and clean, but nevertheless it describes the night and neon character of Nightside well enough that even a non-visual reader like myself can picture the place. The stories are pretty straightforward. As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge follower of the hardboiled genre (for some reason, I just can’t follow the logic sometimes), but I can follow these and enjoy them.
Downside? This is pretty dark stuff. The trigger warnings in these stories would require a whole new blog post just to list them; do not read if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended/disturbed. For myself, I can’t really binge-read the Nightside series like I usually do Jim Butcher’s work, for example, just sit down and read and read and read until I’ve consumed the whole series. I tried it with Nightside twice. I enjoyed the reading, don’t get me wrong. But around about Book Seven, I started feeling depressed and fatalistic. I do better reading these stories in small doses. Again, your mileage may vary.
All in all, I recommend this series if you’re down with the hardboiled detective pulp genre, but are in the mood for a dark fantasy/SF twist, aren’t easily offended, or just can’t resist the “hidden world” scenario in fiction (my personal favorite flavor).
Aaaaaaand that’s it for me today. You know the drill: share, tweet, comment, write. Next up is Fun Friday, and for that I could really use some recommendations. Contact me at ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net. I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting….. Meh, it’ll come to me. In the meantime, I’m out of here; now I’m in the mood to read Nightside again! Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!