Ryk E. Spoor, Digital Knight (Baen, 2003)
Information specialist Jason Wood never expected his life to get any more complicated than trying to meet bills and avoid embarassing himself around his best friend and psychic hottie, Sylvia Stake. After all, how dangerous can enhancing photos for the police, or doing Web searches for college professors be? When a routine investigation into the unethical business dealings of a local politician goes sour, though, Jason's life turns upside-down and inside-out in a big way. Because not only do vampires exist and live among us, but so do werewolves, demons, genetic experiments gone wrong, and the remnants of an ancient civilization that's not quite as dead as everyone thought. It'll take every bit of ingenuity, technological expertise, and sheer hard-headed resourcefulness to keep Jason and Sylvia alive as they get embroiled in Things Man Really, REALLY, No Really I MEAN It, Wasn't Ever Supposed To Know. Whether he's confronting a drug-dealing, well-spoken centuries-old vampire, mouthing off against the immortal King of the Werewolves, or tracking down something capable of turning deadly monsters into stone statues, he'll be pushed to the very edge of his endurance more than once. And just when you think it's safe to open the door again....
Well. THAT was an interesting read. At first, Digital Knight comes off in the same vein (I made a pun, sorry) as Tanya Huff's Victory Nelson series, or Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, or Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden frankly, there's enough private investigators who get caught up in the supernatural to warrant a convention (which could then get attacked by Cthulhu.... scribbling this down as a great idea for a movie). Anyway, at first, the book starts off on fairly familiar ground, which is by no means a complaint. It's a tried and true subgenre by now (and one that's inspired at least several anthologies, such as Supernatural Sleuths or Vampire Detectives, both edited by Martin H. Greenberg). Private investigators, or private citizens of whatever sort, who get mucked up in the world of the supernatural, is almost expected by now. I suspect every writer's got one or two ideas for "A tall leggy dame walked into my office and flashed a pair of fangs..."
So where am I going with this? That, my friends, is the exact mental question I had numerous times while reading Digital Knight. This is a book that delivers a major twist less than forty pages into a 378 page book, before setting up the real status quo. And then it delivers another twist, throwing a new breed of supernatural menace at us. And then yet another big twist, in which Everything We Know Is Not Quite Right. Oh! And then it takes a left turn into Everything We Know Is Really Wrong. We start off with one thing, and end up in a related-but-rather-different arena by the end. Ancient lost civilizations, genetic experiments, immortal creatures, government conspiracies and cutting-edge technology are all thrown in to make one hell of a cup of coffee.
In some ways, this is rather frustrating. Spoor's got a lot of great ideas, most of which could be fleshed out a lot more, each one worthy of a book by itself. Instead, he's chosen, in a rather episodic format, to compress them all into one book, which is still the first of a projected series, as far as I can tell. If they were actually billed as short stories, or episodes, that would be one thing; any number of books have done well with collecting short stories to present a full narrative, such as the early Callahan's stories by Spider Robinson, or some of Mike Resnick's works. But by offering us what appears to be a novel-length tale broken up into six episodes, each one with its own distinct problem and flavor, Spoor's potentially weakened the overall flow. Which really is a shame, since as I've said, there's a lot of good ideas, and a lot of potential.
Once I started reading, I had trouble stopping. Part of this is because, through natural curiosity, I just had to see what new twist Spoor had ready to throw at us. Would Jason Wood be revealed as an alien? Was Sylvia Stake really a fairy? Do vampires and werewolves have children together? (These are hypothetical questions, I promise ... or are they?). But the other reason was because Digital Knight really is a fun story. Okay, it's mind candy, shameless and unrepentant, as the author himself has admitted. For that very reason, it's worth checking out; it's nice to have a break every now and again from The Next Great Fantasy or The Next Harry Potter. Writing's become so serious of late! Ryk Spoor's done a great job of reminding us that sometimes it's okay to cut loose and enjoy what we're reading. I won't lie and say that this is the Next Big Thing, and in all honesty I prefer Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, but when the next book by Spoor comes out, I'll be right there to see what further twists and turns he has ready for us.
[Michael M. Jones]