Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey
The first time you do anything over a reasonably long period of time, it’s fun and interesting to learn something new. The second time around, however, you know the basics. With the benefit of hindsight, you’re just correcting the errors you know you made and working everything up to a state of reasonable perfection. It’s still interesting because you know you can be better than the first time. But when it comes to the third time, you’ve reached the ranks of a professional. You know how to deliver what the audience expects and all you need do is switch on the autopilot and go through the well-honed motions. It’s no long fun because you’ve learned all you need to know to deliver the content. The only thing driving you now is pride. No matter how many times you deliver the content, you want it to be the best performance you can give.
So when Richard Kadrey sat down to write Sandman Slim, he was full of the joys of spring. There’s a wonderful sense of amusement permeating the entire text, with delightful wit and knowing insights littered through the text with casual abandon. For those with no religious hang-ups, it’s a wonderful reading experience. I thought Kill the Dead almost as good. The pace of the plot is nicely managed and, once again, we feel Kadrey is still having fun. Unfortunately, Aloha From Hell sees Kadrey back to being a seasoned professional. This is still a “good” book but it lacks the faintly anarchic disrespect that made the first two so pleasing. This is not to say I think Kadrey is bored with Sandman Slim as a cast of characters, but the entire reading experience has almost ground to a halt with this book. That said, the plot in simple form is full of potential.
The Sandman is provoked into making a trip back to Hell. This involves a slightly complicated set of events. Our hero will not simply go if his arch-enemy Mason calls. He must talk himself into the visit. So kidnapping Alice, his ex-girlfriend, is the bait he rises to. If we accept the notion of a game with two halves, the pre-Hell part of play is way better than the second when he actually gets to Hell. Although there are times when the descriptions grow to tedious length, there’s still a sense of some chemistry between our man and both Vidocq and Candy (Kasabian is slightly sidelined). But once we get back into Hell, everything feels padded out with a lot more exposition. Worse, this is not really the same Hell we were expecting from the descriptions given in the first two episodes which is given a less than satisfying explanation. It does all come to a reasonable conclusion. The right butts are kicked and it’s left with options for the series to continue. That said, I hope Kadrey doesn’t write another. I think he’s shot his bolt with these characters and would be better advised to start something else new to rekindle his interest. Of course, HarperCollins may throw money at him for more Sandman Slim. This will pay the mortgage and keep him going. For what it’s worth, I think this would be a mistake on both sides. I fear it might produce something professional (as we would expect from an author with this experience) but boring.
Taking an overall view of Aloha From Hell, I suppose there are what we might now term the trademark mayhem moments, but the relationship between the Sandman and his inner angel doesn’t feel quite right. The idea his birth produced one body with two minds is psychologically mechanical. I’m prepared to suspend disbelief on the basis that one mind might get access to new abilities with the voice of his conscience more active than would be usual in a human. Pulling the cork on the angel’s bottle like releasing a genie when magic tricks are required is more 1001 Arabian Nights than iconoclastic Sandman material. Equally worrying is the the relegation of his inner circle of friends to sidekicks who only appear in the first half of the book. I understand he can’t take them with him when he goes to Hell but, with Candy now more officially his girlfriend as well as his bodyguard, it emphasises the lack of continuity between the first and second halves of the book. So, this is a bit disappointing after the first two in the series. If you came to it as a standalone, I think you would also find it confusing and not very good. What little enjoyment there is comes from knowing who everyone is. So read this third-time Richard Kadrey only if you travel in hope of finding something you enjoy. I’m not an infallible judge. This may be just what you’re looking for to lighten a day when you’re feeling down.