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Lucifer's Dragon

by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

(Pocket Books, £6.99, 377 pages, paperback, first published 1998, this edition published 1 March 2004.)

At last, Jon Courtenay Grimwood's current publishers are able to re-issue this highly-regarded author's earlier works (first published in the UK by a different company); they're stylishly re-packaged, and cover scangive readers who have discovered Grimwood through his recent Arabesks series a chance to see what else he can do. And about time too.

Despite its title, Lucifer's Dragon is no High Fantasy bookshelf-buster: it's a high-octane, streetwise, technologically-sophisticated thriller. Or, pretty much, what we used to call cyberpunk: wired up street kids, physically modified bodyguards and assassins (usually female, often Asian or oriental), world-weary, drugged out cyber-gangsters... all doing battle in the international warground of the megacorporations.

Lucifer's Dragon wears its cyberpunk credentials proudly: we have Razz, the silver-skinned, physically augmented bodyguard to the Doge -- a child who is pivotal in the ruling structure of the CySat media megacorp; we have artificial intelligences running heavyweight defence networks, kids who can hack into top grade computer systems, street gangs with a range of outlandish physical modifications. And more.

So it would be easy to dismiss Lucifer's Dragon as just another piece of derivative fiction, fifteen years past its time even when it first came out in the late 90s. And for the first 40 or 50 pages you would almost be justified, faced with a barrage of techno-gabble and the superficial fondness for neologisms that's almost a trademark of second rate cyberpunk -- the mistaken belief that flashy language and countless brand-names somehow equate with the substance of a fully realised future world.

It would be easy, but it would be a mistake. Grimwood wrote this novel with a '90s knowingness -- Razz's cyberpunk augmentations are regarded as passé by many, for example. He writes with humour -- in a future of declining fertility, for instance, sperm futures are quoted on the Dow Jones. His characterisation is deft, sure and engaging. And the plot, confusing and muddied at first, ties everything together in a grand and explosive finale. Violent, passionate and thoroughly seedy, Lucifer's Dragon makes for a cracking good read.

Review by Keith Brooke.

This review first appeared, in slightly different form, in Odyssey, and they still haven't paid me what they owe for most of my work there.

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