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Brain Thief
Alexander Jablokov
Tor, 383 pages

Brain Thief
Alexander Jablokov
Alexander Jablokov novels include Carve The Sky, A Deeper Sea and Nimbus. His collection of short fiction, The Breath of Suspension, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. It is rumoured that his last name is pronounced Yablokov, but is spelled with a "J."

Alexander Jablokov Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Deepdrive

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Let's go gonzo. And welcome back, Alexander Jablokov. Back in the 90s, Jablokov wrote a series of science fiction novels and stories ranging from space opera to cyberpunk thrillers. He wrote a Mars novel and published a first-rate story collection, and was right at the forefront of a new generation of writers that were using literary styles and techniques to create a new kind of hard science fiction. Then, he pretty much disappeared from view. In reality, Jablokov was raising a family and working a job with a steadier income than that of a science fiction writer.

But the urge to return to the life of the starving artist has proved irresistible, and Alexander Jablokov is back with Brain Thief, and instead of the seriousness of hard SF, Brain Thief is a funny, often hilarious adventure set in the wilds of rural and suburban New England. Not only that, it's a style of humor that rarely emerges in science fiction; a hip, sarcastic mix of personal observations mixed with pop culture and historical references. The late great Hunter S. Thompson was the master, but if there is such a thing as gonzo science fiction, Brain Thief is it.

Here's a taste of what lies within. Two characters have just met in a diner, after cautioning them to avoid the paella, (it has squid in it) and noting that "those things evolved too long ago to be edible," their waiter launches in to a diatribe involving Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the possible staging of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bob, the waiter, concludes that Roosevelt did what he had to do, on account of the difficulties he faced at the time.

  "He had to get an isolationist, xenophobic, racist, mob-ruled, Hollywood-addled nation to do its duty. Think of the challenge he had! They thought they could pull the Atlantic and Pacific oceans over their heads and go to sleep. Greatest generation my ass. The last generation for whom lynching was considered an evening's light entertainment. And the whining! An overdue stock correction and they all fell on their backs and lay there for a decade with their legs in the air like stunned beetles."  

Brain Thief has an ostensible plot-line involving a rogue AI that's stealing frozen brains. It all starts with the disappearance of Muriel, Bernal Haydon-Rumi's boss. His attempts to find out what happened lead to encounters with a series of off-beat characters ranging from a cryonic therapist with a shady past to an anti-AI activist with access to some off-beat hardware, and it's Bernal's interaction with the people he meets along the way to solving the mystery of Muriel's death that Brain Thief is really all about.

The truest thing anyone can say about humor in science fiction is that there's not enough humor in science fiction. That especially goes for the style of humor deployed in Brain Thief. The closest equivalents in today's SF are probably found in Rudy Rucker's latest novels, and the short stories of Paul Di Filippo. For those whose sense of humor is tuned in that direction, Brain Thief is that rare combination of humor and SF that strikes all the best chords at once.

Copyright © 2010 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson wonders if Alexander Jablokov ever considered calling his latest novel Fear and Loathing in New England. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction. And, for something different, Greg blogs about news and politics relating to outdoors issues and the environment at Thinking Outside.


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