I finished reading an advance review copy (ARC) of Rex Jameson‘s novel Lucifer’s Odyssey, yesterday. (The planned release date is September 1.) While my overall impression was a good one, I wanted to let it stew a bit before writing this review in order to try to figure out what was wrong or missing that kept it from being a total success for me. The following is, therefore, more a critique than a review. If you just want a review, I’d say it’s worth sampling to see if you want to read it, as I thought it was worth my time. It probably won’t appeal to everyone (but then, what book does?), but if you like universe-spanning action with a soupcon of comedic relief, you should give it a look.
The good news was that it was an easy to read novel, well paced and written in a fairly informal manner that kept me turning the virtual pages on my Kindle. The title was quite appropriate, as the main character Lucifer (or Luke) bounced around the multiverse from one problem to another, not unlike the way Odysseus bounced around the Mediterranean during his multiple detours on the way home from Troy. While the cast of characters included, in addition to Lucifer, other demons/angels with names like Michael and Jehovah, this is not another Paradise Lost or any sort of obvious religious story or allegory: it is basically a straight-up fusion of fantasy and science fiction.
That might have been one of the aspects that distracted me. When a story begins with immortal characters named Lucifer and Michael confronting each other on a modern day Earth, arguing about what Jehovah is up to, one tends to expect something in a religious nature to ensue — or at least posit a non-religious alternative to our religious legends surrounding them. Instead, the rest of the story has nothing to do with Earth or humanity (unless in the big picture — the sequels — it returns to Earth?). Therefore, the constant interaction of these characters with names that are heavily loaded in our culture tended to keep making me want to see something deeper, perhaps more philosophical.
Likewise, the obvious correlations between this book and Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” books was sort of a good news/bad news situation. One of the reasons Rex asked me to review this book was my avowed love of everything Zelazny. Besides the obvious references to patterns and pattern magic, there are the references to the Courts of Chaos, and the main character’s nickname Luke is also the name of a prominent character in the second “Amber” series. Also, like much of Zelazny’s fiction, this story straddles both the fantasy and science fiction genres — pretty successfully, I might add.
While I admire this sort of homage to one of my all-time favorites, it then suffers from the unavoidable comparisons, much as did John Betancourt’s “Dawn of Amber” series. To say that neither author lived up to that comparison is not really a knock on them: the authors with the skill, fluidity, imagery, imagination, and heart of Roger Zelazny are very, very few and far between. I suspect that if, unlike me, you have not read everything of Zelazny’s you could get your hands on and have lost track of how many times you have re-read his Amber books, then this should not be an issue for you.
A third challenge this book faced was making me care about an immortal character with what to you and me would be god-like powers. I did mostly like Lucifer (as odd as that sounds), and generally did care about the characters. I think the use of humor, in particular between Lucifer and his brother Sariel, helped to make them seem more human. However, I’ve never been one to easily relate to heroes with superhuman powers, as I prefer to cheer for reasonably normal people overcoming obstacles, rather than crushing those obstacles with their immense powers. You end up having to give them enormous challenges in order to be a satisfying test of their powers, and then you start to risk the dilemma faced by action movie sequels: the chases, explosions, gunfights, etc. have to get bigger and bigger (or at least so think the Hollywood moguls), all the while making it harder to relate their super-problems to our own every-day problems.
Admittedly, Roger Zelazny often had “superman” protagonists, and he usually pulled it off — yet another statement on his genius. As I said, Jameson did not fail, but I didn’t think he totally succeeded, either. Perhaps Lucifer just (just?) needed a bit more of a character arc for me. I would have liked to have seen a bit more complexity and even confusion in his attitudes. Instead, it seemed that every time Lucifer came up with a challenge, he immediately decided how he felt about it, and then acted on it: there was no second-guessing or wallowing in self-doubt. Of course, if that sort of thing had been overdone, I would have complained about it, too, as I’m a tough audience.
After all that, I do think Mr. Jameson shows a lot of promise, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for his next books, as the early evidence suggests a lively imagination along with a capable hand on the keyboard. Hopefully experience — and age — will hone those attributes while adding increased depth and emotion to his future novels. (The sequel, Goblin Rebellion, is currently scheduled to be released 1 Feb. 2012.)