Underground Reading: Darker than Amber by John D. MacDonald

Underground Reading: Streetlethal by Steven Barnes

Streetlethal (1983) Streetlethalby Steven Barnes, takes place in a post-quake California, controlled by corrupt corporations and a powerful crime ring, the Ortegas. Aubry Knight, space-boxing expert, just wanted to do his thing (his thing being "Maxine"), but the Ortegas wouldn't let him. Set up for murder, Knight is sent off to jail for life. He vows revenge, etc. etc.

The entire book reads like a particularly florid transcription of a forgettable 1980's action movie. Knight punches his way out of jail, punches his way through LA, punches his way through the rebel underground and then punches his way up the corporate ladder. 

The book was half decent (as a fist-fest) until Knight gets mixed up with some sort of super-mushroom and achieves philosophical transcendence. Armed with the aforementioned fists and a particularly repellent need to spout off about the nature of love, he's an unstoppable force. That which he can't punch, he can wrap his love-mind around. That which he can't love-mind, he punches. 

By the end, I wasn't just cheering for the bad guys, I was praying for another earthquake.

Knight is also, for the record, a complete jackass. He spends half the book whinging about revenge, half the time whinging that his (equally assinine) female co-star doesn't lurve him enough, another half whinging that everyone is picking on him and a final half being randomly insensitive to those around him. That's 4 halves, but this book is bad enough for two.

The equally assinine female co-star, Promise, is also noteworthy. She's a half-plastic prostitute with the ability to alter her artificial skin to show tie-dye rainbow patterns. This makes her super hot, and when she dances, everyone splooges in their pants. (Streetlethal: straight to Cinemax in 1987!) Knight loves her (reasons unknown, as she's a bitch), and sees through the super-splooging to the (intolerable moo) woman underneath. They take super-mushrooms together and can then communicate telepathically, which, according to Streetlethal, is the height of love. (Clearly the author hadn't watched any of the Lwaxana Troi episodes of Star Trek lately).

Even as a feat of post-apocalyptic world building, this book sucks. There's a tantalizing (for Streetlethal) reference to a group of rabid punks with SuperAIDS, but they only appear for a couple of pages. There's an underground (literally) counter-culture, an inexplicably immense global crime syndicate and (somehow) zero-gravity boxing with minimal references to space. Knight punches his way from one setting to another, each goofier and more irritating than the one before.

Aubry Knight doesn't just have fists and a telepathic love-mind - he also has sequels. Try them if you like, but may god have mercy on your soul, for Aubry Knight will not.

Tube journeys: 1 afternoon in (pre-apocalyptic) LA
Format: Dead tree
Rating: One punch and six whines (imperial); 12 bad trips on super-mushrooms (metric).