A Family Affair
By Cheryl Morgan
Meet Kit Nouveau, failed rock star, failed soldier, failed English teacher, failed husband and shortly to become failed bar owner.
The man who stared out from Pirate Maryís basement window inhaled a deeper sourness, one that danced in wisps of smoke from the heated foil in his fingers. Kit Nouveau kept his habit on a tight leash, limiting himself to one fix a day, but the dragon was restless and beginning to strain against its chains. One of them was winning and Kit guessed it wasnít him.
In a few hours, Kit will have no money, no property, no wife, no relatives who will speak to him, and rather more enemies than is entirely healthy. When a mugger threatened to kill him he could easily have said, "Go ahead, I donít have anything else left to lose." Which makes it all the more odd that he should find his life saved by the beggar girl in the cos-play outfit. OK, so he bought her coffee most mornings because she looked so cold and lonely. But did that make his life worth saving? And where did she get those knife-fighting skills anyway?
Kit doesnít know much about Lady Neku, but then thereís a lot she doesnít know about herself either.
Sheíd left her body on a chair beside the door. At first she imagined her bedroom had just tidied it away, but all her wardrobes were empty. So she checked the room sheíd used as a child, just in case the household gods were being more forgetful than usual, only her body wasnít there either.
The book is called End of the World Blues, and it is the new novel by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Some blurb on the back cover of the ARC says, "Öcombines the literary brilliance of 9 Tail Fox with the SF Ďwowí factor of Stamping Butterflies. I hope they keep that for the production version, because it is remarkably accurate.
The plot of End of the World Blues shuttles back and fore between Tokyo and London, with occasional excursions to Lady Nekuís home of High Strange, a failing orbital habitat situated at the end of the world. Temporally, that is.
Writing a book set in a foreign culture is always a dangerous thing to do. I was enormously impressed with the sense of San Francisco that Grimwood achieved in 9 Tail Fox. Iím sure he worked equally hard on getting Tokyo right, and while Japan is considerably more foreign than California, Iím happy to take it on trust that he did a good job. Besides, you know he works at his cultural observation because he tries to see England as a foreign country.
A metro ran from Heathrow airport to one of the most famous underground stations in London. She knew this because it was in a magazine stuck into the back of the seat in front of her on the plane. The magazine said using the London metro system was very easy, which turned out to be a lie.
Note the use of the word "metro". Not a word an Englishman would use in this context. Very nice touch.
But letís leave the cultural stuff for now. Many of you will want to know what the book is about. Families, basically; gangster families. Kit Nouveau has an unerring ability to get himself involved with the sort of people you normally only find in The Sopranos. Except that Kitís not-quite in-laws are London Irish on one side of the world and Yakuza on the other. Fortunately he is not actually "involved" with Neku, because her family might well be the worst of the lot.
Quite what all this has to do with Kitís teenage years in Hampshire, with a rock band called Switchblade Lies, and two boys who ought to be friends but have this issue over a girl bassist/singer with the worryingly prophetic name of Vita Brevis, I need to leave you to find out. After all, Kit spends much of the book finding it out. And what he learns is, of course, that the past has gone and you canít go back. That lesson even applies to time-traveling teenagers from the end of the world.
"Come on," said Lady Neku, giving the door a kick. "All you have to do is open."
"You know," said the door. "Iím not sure thatís a good idea."
"Why?" she demanded.
"Because," said the door, "once opened, Iím open. Returning to a time when I was locked becomes impossible."
"I can relock you myself."
"Thatís not the same," said the door. "And you know it."
Which leaves us with just one question. Why? Why are the tales of Kit Nouveau and Lady Neku intercut like this? The question as to why Neku chose 21st Century Japan as her destination is answered in the book. But that doesnít tell us what purpose Nekuís story has in a book that could easily just have been a simple thriller. I have my own theories, of course, but I suspect that this may be a question that exercises the Clarke judges when they debate the book. You will need to make up your own minds.
In the meantime, End of the World Blues has made it comfortably onto my top ten SF novels of the year. It may well end up on my Hugo list, although it has no chance of being on the ballot in Yokohama because the US edition wonít be out until at least next year. Ah well, I guess I can get all excited over it again when America does get to see it.
Now if only the book had come complete with a soundtrack by The SeatbeltsÖ