Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Clean" by Alex Hughes

Clean by Alex Hughes is an enjoyable piece of science fiction noir, sharing its sensibilities with many popular urban fantasy series, but committed to its near-future environment and characters. If I could have wished for more exploration of the villain's telepathic crimes (how did he do that exactly?) and of the telepaths' powers in general, it was gratifying to see another voice on the science fictional side. I like my fantasy just fine but it has been subsuming everything lately; I love to see some science fiction breaking through.

I don't enjoy entertainment reviews or plugs that say, "It's x crossed with y!" But I have to admit,  Clean does make me want to use the phrase.

I picked up the book because the premise reminded me of Alfred Bester The Demolished Man, one of my favorites. Playing in the yard with Bester's toys strikes me as good fun, and a fine place to start a novel. Telepaths, telekinetics, a powerful Guild: it's all here.

But the (almost) unnamed protagonist is about as far from the confident, powerful Lincoln Powell as you can get. He is a drug addict living on the seedy edge of tomorrow, thrown out of his Guild and distrusted even by his own colleagues. Sound familiar? It put me much in mind of George Alec Effinger's Marid Audran books. A very good thing.

I'm curious as to how much the series will delve into the criminal element; Clean's protagonist is much more of a boy scout than Marid ever was; even his addiction stems from a scientific experiment performed inside the Guild, though it's grip on him makes him no less dangerous. He wants to commit to rebuilding his life after nearly destroying himself; will he stay on that path?

I look forward to reading the next book, Sharp, in April.

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