I first became interested in reading Philip Palmer when I came across this devastating Strange Horizons review of his second novel, Red Claw, by Jonathan McCalmont. The review is so awfully scathing that it starts thus:
Red Claw is Philip Palmer’s second novel. It is not a particularly good novel. Let us not mince our words; it is a desperately boring novel. It is boring in a way that is only made feasible by poor writing. In fact, this book is so poorly written . . .
Which immediately perked my interest. A book that can elicit such… hatred? in a review was most likely worth reading! I looked further into Palmer’s reviews and they seemed split between vitriolic loathing and enthusiastic admiration, and so he moved up to the top of my list of people whose books I want to look out for -
And then came the Locus review of Version 43, Palmer’s third novel, and I realised I had to get it. It had a cyborg PI who kept getting killed and coming back! It was positively Robocopian!
And then, at Eastercon, I got to briefly meet Palmer, who is not an American at all (I have to admit, I don’t know why I thought he would be American), and was very nice and what more, there were copies of Version 43 on offer at a group signing towards the end of the convention and I figured I had to get myself one, so I did.
I read 90% it on the plane back home and the rest the next day.
And it’s awesome.
Version 43 is mental, in a good way. It is waay over the top, it pays loving homage to the history of science fiction (there are planets called Pohl, Kornbluth and GullyFoyle!), it is violent, inventive, it has really – cool – aliens! - and a hero who just keeps coming back from the dead!
There are echoes of Reynolds here – particularly, I think, Chasm City and Century Rain - but it is not in any way Renoldsian (if that’s a word). In fact, I don’t think there is anyone quite like Palmer working in science fiction today. If Version 43 was a film it would be Total Recall, the same completely zany mixture of camp and violence and moments of surprising tenderness. And Robocop, of course, though it would be more like Robocop 3… (don’t let anyone tell you that’s not a good thing!)
In short, Version 43 was (often quite literally!) a blast. And when you realise Palmer’s next novel is called Hell Ship then, well! You know where you are.
Also there’s an awesome line in there when someone says “fuck” and then says “pardon my Pohlian.” Ha! Geek jokes!
So basically, buy this book! You’d love it… unless you’d hate it!
Me, I’m off to buy a Kindle so I can get the rest of Palmer’s books.