Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Sinner, by Greg Stolze

In which Josh reviews a science fiction book published in the current century!

When a friend told me that Greg Stolze was funding a supervillain novel though kickstarter, I was all over that.  Though I've read some of his fiction, I'm most familiar with Stolze through his role-playing work. He was one of the guys behind Unknown Armies, which I consider the best horror RPG of the last 20 years. It's one of those games where the themes mesh so perfectly with the mechanics. The setting is brilliant, the NPCs are memorable, and everything that exists in the game seems to belong there.

So I pledged at the $15 level, which got me a PDF right away, and will get me a physical copy once they've been printed.

Stolze's book is called Sinner and it tells the tale of its namesake, a reluctant supervillain who turns himself into police custody after a particularly momentous super-fight. The early book covers his surrender, trial and incarceration. We get some flashbacks and some details about his past, and some information about the other super-beings in the world.

I really liked the supporting characters. Probe-5, which struck me as a particularly ingenious variation on the Martian Manhunter, the Cephalopod and, of course, Black Marvel, whom I imagine as looking like Captain Marvel's nemesis, Black Adam, by dint of his name.

Some minor spoilers will follow, but nothing that gives away too much.

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I think my biggest problem with the book is that Sinner's long imprisonment didn't really mean anything in any significant way; it was just an excuse to get him out of circulation while the events that would drive the larger story moved forward.

The other problem is that the foreshadowing was too blatant. There are newspaper clippings, which describe the loss of Earth's colonies further out in the solar system, and at one point, Probe-5 shows up on a late night talk show and says that an alien force is going to demolish our solar system for a hyperspace bypass Dyson Sphere. He also tells Sinner that he (Sinner) is an alien.

I'm reluctant to call it foreshadowing because the big reveal amounts to "You know that stuff we came right out and said? It's true, and here are some more details."

However...that doesn't mean I don't like the book. On the contrary. You could probably have chopped out eighty pages in the prison and replaced them with "Eight years passed with me in jail and not much happened," without affecting the larger story, but I wouldn't want to. Stolze gives Sinner a fantastically engaging voice. He's just fun to read.

As anyone who has ever borrowed a book from me will know, I tend to dogear the pages of my books when I come across an interesting concept, or a phrase I wish I had written. I didn't do that much here. Aside from really interesting bits about the Black Marvel and Javelin, it wasn't the concepts that drove the books. But, as with Stolze's work with Unknown Armies, absolutely everything fit perfectly. Sinner's narration didn't have a lot of high concepts or memorable sound bites, but it moved so smoothly that I read the entire book within a day, and I can't remember the last time I did that.

The ending? Well, I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's the kind of ending that puts everything that came before it in a new context. I think I'd have to read the book again before I can say what I think of the ending.

I give the book a solid B. You should buy it so Greg Stolze will have more money to make more cool stuff.

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