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Sci-Fi Undercover — Desperate Measures, Book 1 of Angel’s Luck

August 25, 2013

Title: Desperate Measures (Book One of Angel’s Luck Trilogy)

Author: Joe Clifford Faust (wikipedia)

(Official WordPress Website)

Publishing info: A Del Ray Book / Ballantine Books – 1989

Pages: 245

Cover Art: David B. Mattingly (official website)

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May pulled himself out of the overstuffed armchair and patted Duncan on the shoulder.  “Thanks,” he said.  “But maybe it’s time I looked to the one person who really can do something to help me”

“Who is that?” Duncan asked.

“Me,” May said. (p. 78)

If you took a glance at the previous post on this Joe Cillford Faust novel (or at the cover), you might have certain expectations.  I know I did.  Would it center around debauchery?  Carnal pleasures?  Vices like smoking, drinking, and choking people?  Would it be like Cheers in space–the entire book taking place in an orbital pub?

(One thing Desperate Measures does have in common with a sitcom is in the above quote: glaring, intentional wit written into characters that the reader is supposed like.)

I suppose I could have gotten a better idea of what to expect by reading the words on the front and back, but where’s the fun in that?  If I’m in a bookstore and see this cover artwork, several promises are made to the reader and unfortunately only some of them are kept.  I am happy to report, at least, that there is plenty of choking . . . just not that kind.

Desperate Measures cover

The hypothesized consensual BDSM never occurred, holographic or otherwise.

Sex

Perhaps not completely unusual for a novel published in 1989, Faust plays down sex to a disappointing degree.  Maybe if every page was saturated with whips and auto-erotic asphyxiation, I might get burned out.  But Desperate Measures makes James Bond / screen fade-out sex look like [censored].com.  Here, when sex is mentioned, it occurs ‘off-screen’ or is alluded to with vague dialogue and rather juvenile jokes.

Intoxicants

The cover of Desperate Measures is a rough approximation of the opening scene.  The chief protagonist James May is getting drunk with then-partner Dexter.  As one might guess from the artwork, the celebratory moment turns into an inebriated altercation that creates the initial conflict of the story.  Most of this is in good humor, and drunken shenanigans are sprinkled in throughout the book usually with light-hearted results.   One awesome invention of Faust is Leuten’s Alcohol Neutralzier which would be handy today–it helps negate the effects of drinking both during the night and the morning after.

Violence

Fitting with American media when compared to Europe–while sex is played down, the inner Quentin Tarantino in many of us is just waiting to burst out.  Let’s see . . .

• body count in the hundreds

• creative deaths and weapons (explosive implanted in heads, chlorine gassing, anti-tank rifles, laser carbines)

• cavalier attitude toward killing

• floating bits of someone’s head and brain in a gravity-free cockpit courtesy of the aforementioned implant

To be fair, there is sometimes regret over the ‘need’ to kill someone, and the character of Duke injects some baseline morality in his (initial) hesitation to do harm, but it reads like naiveté compared to the Rambos and McBains beside him.

At heart though, it would be wrong to call the protagonists strictly immoral beings.  Quick to anger?  Sure.  Deceitful?  Often.   But a science fiction novel doesn’t get very far when it’s populated by angels.  Which brings me to–

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Of Mice and Men

Shhh, Lennie. It’s okay. They have rabbits in the future.

Wait.  Okay, I can’t ignore this any longer.  I have to say something quickly about page 138 and John Steinbeck.

If I drew up a list of 100 things that I might expect in science fiction, a blatant reference to the 1937 masterpiece Of Mice and Men wouldn’t make the cut, falling somewhere in the 300s between Oreo Cookie Monsters and a delivery run where nothing of consequence happens.

Page 138:

“They’re good,” Anders insisted.  “It’s a George and Lenny pair.  A small guy does all the thinking and can handle any weapon you put in his hands.  The big one can’t think to save his life but will give until it hurts.  He’s stronger than hell.”

Perhaps by changing (misspelling?) Lennie’s name, Faust thought to throw us off track.  But I have a feeling particularly astute readers might just catch what he’s doing

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All right–one reason all this violence (as well as colorful language) intrigues me is that Joe Clifford Faust loudly advertises his Christianity.  It’s not within the scope of this article, or my own knowledge, to write commentary on the confluence of Christianity and R-Rated science fiction, but Faust’s mental state while writing fascinates me.

He can explain it all much better than I can  (click around Faust’s website–there’s lots on the topic)

An excerpt:

“As far as sex and violence… I’m divided about that. They exist in modern society and anyone who is writing about modern society (as any SF writer and satirist does) has to deal with them. I choose to deal with them by acknowledging that they exist, but not going into graphic detail about what happened. There are points in my books where the reader needs to know that sex occurred between two characters, so I let them know that it happened.”

As far as sex goes–he’s right.  Oddly enough, the novel’s cover is more sexually explicit than any page of the book.  But he glosses over the amount of creative violence, gore, casual racism, and explicit language in Desperate Measures.  Elsewhere on Faust’s website, he describes himself as a reporter of the human condition–someone that cannot leave out vice if intending to be accurate.  Many Christians and Christian Writers disagree and that’s what makes Faust’s position particularly interesting to me.

I would love to read more on religious writers struggling over reconciling their faith with their work, if anyone can suggest some literature on the subject.

If it sounds like I’m ignoring the story and quality of the novel, that’s because I am.  Sci-Fi Undercover is a free-roam exploration of whatever interests me, starting from the cover.  In the previous post on Daystar and Shadow, I went down a path of autism, eugenics, and authorial risks.  For those actually curious about Desperate Measure‘s ability to tell a story, I can tell you that it reads quickly, has funny dialogue and some interesting technology, but it doesn’t take many risks and instead employs a fair amount of sci-fi tropes in unoriginal ways.

Here is the plainest summary of Desperate Measure‘s merits as a novel that I can provide–if someone gave me the next books in the trilogy, I would probably give Book II a chance at some point in my life.

BONUS: In the coming days, I will ask cover artist David B. Mattingly a number of questions about his work and career.  Stay tuned!

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