Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: 'Sunsmoke' by James Killus

2 / 5 Stars

‘Sunsmoke’ (Ace, 1985, 182 pp.) features cover art by Don Brautigam.
It’s 1986 and Raymond Macgregor, a brilliant, but socially inept, programmer is exploring the use of the EPAnet  software package to model the development of smog formations over Southern California. This is Old School command-line stuff, done on cathode-ray-tube workstations with phone modems to a central server that does all the real computing. But back in the mid-80s it was considered the Cutting Edge.
Ray has been messing around with arcane knowledge and when he combines occult incantations and code, the result is the spawning of a creature – the Smog Monster – that feeds on pollution. And since it’s June, and the weather is heating up, the monster is going to find all the pollution it needs to grow, thrive, and make Los Angeles its private stomping ground.
Walter Peters, an atmosphere chemist and Macgregor’s longtime rival, watches his meteorological models with puzzlement and then increasing alarm. What is taking place in the air over the southern part of the state does not obey any natural laws.  As the monster becomes manifest and the body count rises, it’s up to Peters, a group of Southern California beautiful people, an alluring witch named Joella,  and a team of hardcore programmers, to discover the secret behind the smog monster and defeat it before the entire West Coast goes under a choking cloud of toxins and fire……
Author Killus was an actual smog modeler working on a EPA contract at the time he wrote his manuscript, so the science content of the novel is more or less accurate. 

However, I found ‘Sunsmoke’ to be an uneasy amalgamation of SF, horror story, and satire. Killus tends to use a lot of witty prose in describing the goings-on of his very ‘California’ cast of characters (think hot tubs, Sensual Massage, getting stoned, the I Ching, karate class, etc., etc.) but such prose tends to undermine his efforts to portray the smog monster as a genuinely harrowing phenomenon. When Killus labels the third part of his book ‘Godzilla Vs the Smog Monster’,  the layering of ‘Ghost Busters’ – style humor onto the plot becomes too self-evident.
If  ‘Sunsmoke’ had been written as a straightforward SF / horror tale it might have gained considerable traction, but as it stands, it comes across as a hesitantly defined mishmash of genres. I can only recommend it to those determined to read every manifestation of cyberpunk seeing print in the 80s.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If anybodys interested, James Killus died of cancer in 2008, but his blog still remains online.

Interesting stuff.