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Burn by Jonathan Lyons

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A first novel by an author and published by a small press… odds are it will be one of the many "snooze festival" novels that we receive and discard after reading the first 30 or 40 pages. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by Burn. It’s not the next Hugo award winner, but it is certainly an excellent effort for a first novel. Billed as a science fiction noir (whatever that may be), it is a cross between a Sam Spade novel and Blade Runner… a combination that works very well.

In the 21st century mankind has ruined a good portion of the Earth through exploitation of resources and pollution. In fact, most of North America is now covered by dismal smog punctuated by perpetual black acid rain. The rich are relocating to artificial islands in the Pacific, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in the wretched environment. Entertainment and business are controlled by Expedite, a corporation who owns the offspring of the Internet that now features extremely advanced artificial intelligence and true virtual reality.

In Old New York, we meet Cage. Cage is a private detective who was kicked off the police force after conflicting with Expedite. He scratches out a living by pursuing marginally profitable cases. His latest client, Janice Gild, has a lot of money and a perplexing mystery. It seems her brother James was murdered in a bizarre fashion that defies explanation. The police do not seem interested in pursuing the matter. As Cage investigates, his path is littered with corpses that met the same gruesome death as James Gild. Can Cage uncover the mysterious force being used to cause people to burn before he is crushed once more by Expedite… this time possibly for good?

The 21st century world that Lyons invents is fascinating. It is full of androids, cyber-enhanced human beings, techno-slackers, genetically altered human beings and an ultra-wealthy upper class that exploits the downtrodden workers. The character development for Cage and the other main character Jonny is well thought out and unveiled in a manner that keeps you turning the pages. The plot was wrapped up a little too simplistically for my taste, but is true to form of a Sam Spade novel to which Burn pays obvious homage. Although the plot is wrapped up in one novel, the universe and the characters lend itself naturally to sequels. I hope that sales of Burn will be strong, providing Lyons with the opportunity to write another book in this universe.

My major complaint is that the dialogue did not flow well in spots. However, having attempted to write myself, I know it is extremely difficult to write smooth-flowing dialog. Certainly, Lyons should improve in this area as he gains more experience. However, the solid character development and well-constructed plot make up for any lapses in the dialogue.

So grab your Fedora (acid rainproof of course) and bottle of Laphroaig scotch and settle in for an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Alan

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