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The Spare Man, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also, like nearly everyone else in this field, I have had congenial convention/online interactions with MRK.

The Thin Man is a Dashiell Hammett novel, and this is the science fiction reboot thereof, on a cruise ship en route to Mars. So! What does this book have that Hammett fans might be looking for?

Hammett’s prose. No, Kowal decided–probably wisely–not to write this as pastiche. The prose style is instantly recognizable as her own, not his.

Hammett’s gender relations. Again, that’s a no; Kowal decided instead to write a society that does not have the most condescending and divisive possible view of sex and gender. Her future includes characters of varying genders and gender expressions rather than Hammett’s repugnant version.

Quite a lot of alcohol. Oh yes. Each chapter starts with a cocktail recipe, some original to the author, and the characters are drinking more or less constantly through the book. Many of the cocktail recipes are zero-proof, and if you read the notes after the book, you’ll learn that this is quite deliberate and philosophically important to the author. However, if you’re someone who is uncomfortable with a large amount of alcohol consumption for personal reasons even if the author is clearly not pushing it as the one true way of life, this may not be the book for you.

Adorable tiny dog. AND HOW. There is adorable tiny dog peril. I will be your one-person does the dog die dot com and tell you that no, the adorable tiny dog does not die, you’re welcome, you can read the book now. (If you were a person who preferred to be in suspense on this point, I’m sorry but not actually that sorry.)

Entitled rich protagonist. Yep. There is quite a lot of “I don’t have to put up with this! I’m rich!” in this book, which is absolutely true to the original, and while there are a few moments when someone calls Tess on it, in general it’s my least favorite part.

If you’re not a Hammett reader, what might you find? Well, there’s a cruise ship to Mars, complete with Coriolis effects from rotational “gravity.” There’s a disabled protagonist whose disability has more than one assist, of varying futurism levels, but whose disability never gets conveniently wiped away for the sake of the plot. There’s a crocheting attorney back on Earth who is increasingly inconvenienced by the time lag. There’s a string of bodies whose murders are solved by the end, with all the clues in front of you and the pacing of a classic mystery…iiiin. Spaaaace. Oh, and at one point a lot of towel animals. So there’s quite a lot.

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