Sunday, November 07, 2010


Just finished Warren Hammond's KOP this last weekend, which is actually an acronym, Koba Office of Police. Koba is the capital city (and only large city, for that matter) of the planet Lagarto, which is, in a few hundred years, an economically struggling and depressed "third world" planet where life is pretty grim and noirish.

There's a label floating around, back from the 50s (and beyond) of science fiction magazine Galaxy, who used to print examples of it on their back cover, called "Bat Durston." Bat Durston was a fictional fictional character, i.e., he didn't actually appear in any fiction other than the fake examples from the back cover. In those examples, there'd be two side by side paragraphs, one from Bat Durston, sherriff from an Old West type story, and then the exact same paragraph with the setting details swapped out for futuristic. Instead of being in Dodge City, Bat Durston would be on New Dodge on Mars. Instead of the Mojave Desert, it'd be Chryse Planitita. Instead of bandits or indians, it'd be green skinned Martians. Instead of a six shooter and horse, it'd be a ray gun and hovercycle, etc. Bat Durston was emblematic of a type of writing where a story from one genre is transparently transposed into another, and while the setting changes slightly, nothing "fundamental" about the story changes, and it could in theory still be swapped out into yet more genres.

This was seen as a bad thing, and Galaxy promised that "Bat Durstons" would never be seen in its august pages (although arguably it was, occasionally.) If you've read my blog much, you'll probably know that I don't necessarily think that a "Bat Durston" story is a bad thing. A lot of genre fans would greatly benefit from being familiar with the conventions of other genres, and a lot of genre writers would greatly benefit from implementing ideas that they get from outside of their "home" genre. KOP is a Bat Durston in a sense. It's not a "space western" but it is very much a "space hardboiled" or "space noir"--one of the comments from another writer on the cover claims that it's the best noir writing he's read since Dashiell Hammett!

Aging crooked cop Juno Mozambe patrols a beat on Koba. He and his old partner, Peter Chang (who's currently chief of police for Koba) were instrumental in reining in corruption in some respects in Koba--by institutionalizing it and partnering closely with an up and coming crime boss. We first meet Juno as he's shaking down money from prostitutes and bartenders in his protection racket.

We soon learn that things aren't as simple as they seem, though--Juno is pulled from his normal vice assignment to investigate a homicide, and he's partnered with a rookie idealist young (and attractive) new cop for the case. It quickly spirals out of control as he comes to realize that this is much more than a simple random murder, as it first appears, but is part of a hostile takeover of both the government, the police, organized crime, and new, much scarier corruption that makes Chang's tacit approval of "petty" vices seem like child's play.

I read this novel really fast, and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in crime fiction of any kind. This is a nice counterpart to Blade Runner, in fact the ads showing in the background of Blade Runner advertising for a new life on the colonies, could in fact easily have been referring to Lagarto, amongst other places. So, if you like Blade Runner at all, you should give this quick and easy read a try.

My only complaint is that the novel seems to stop without completely ending. I'm not sure if that's a purposeful bait for the next novel, Ex-KOP (which is available now) or just a failing of the novel's structure (or both) but I'd like to see a bit more to the ending. If Ex-KOP starts off handwaving away the epilogue to KOP, I'll be greatly disappointed.

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