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Jonathan Lyons
Domhan Books, 205 pages

Jonathan Lyons
Jonathan Lyons lives in Austin, Texas, where he works as an expert in web multimedia design. Originally from Iowa, with a B.A. (English) from the University of Iowa, Mr. Lyons is also an expert in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. Burn, his first fictional work, has been nominated for the Frankfurt E-Books award.

Burn Website
ISFDB Bibliography
Review: Burn
Domhan Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Burn is a fast-paced, well-plotted and entertaining novel of the near future. A combination of Sam Spade and cyberpunk, Burn takes us to an Earth where ecosystems have been devastated by unchecked industrial emissions and their consequences, old coastal cities have been flooded by rising oceans and rebuilt into smog enshrouded dark corridors awash with rains so acidic the buildings are slowly digested away, where the huge computer conglomerate expedite rules, and where any number of underground organizations sell their services as StellarNet hackers. Amidst all this, apparently unconnected people appear to be victims of spontaneous combustion... enter Cage, the down-on-his-luck ex-cop turned private-eye.

Where Burn does particularly well is in the portrayal of its characters, Jonny Cache the android maid/sex-toy tweaked into self-awareness by her former owner (now a pile of ashes). She doesn't immediately become Superwoman with circuits, and must ponder her inability to feel certain human emotions. The Yin and Yang-Angéliques, a pair of Nouveau Gothic lesbian lovers enhanced with a two-way mind link are also an interesting creation. On the other hand, Cage as the down-and-out detective, follows altogether too much of the broad strokes of the archetype without having any real edge (more on this later). The author also makes some solid social commentary, showing, for example, the paradox of a group of women, the NewSchool Grrls, built around anarchistic and anti-discriminatory principles, who immediately adopt a code of conduct and exclude men.

Let me preface my further remarks by saying that before reading Burn my knowledge of the cyberpunk genre was limited to one or two films and perhaps some commentary on its principal purveyors and their output in various media. Going by this, Burn does appear to meet all the criteria of "cyberpunk" though the author suggests it might best be termed "technoir." Whether attributable to the author or the limitations of whatever genre one may wish to associate it with, I was disappointed not to find any particularly novel or thought-provoking ideas in terms of future science or cybernetics -- at least nothing beyond a reasonable extrapolation of current technology. As for the dark decaying settings of cyberpunk, these existed as far back as Van Tassel Sutphen's The Doomsman (1906), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926), or Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe (1946).

What I more strenuously object to is the characterization of Burn, in its sub-title, as "science-fiction noir," or alternatively as "technoir." Burn, for all its grimy city and carbonized victims is, in my opinion, about as noir as the paper it's printed on... setting isn't everything. Now if the likes of Blade Runner define what noir is these days, then fine, Burn is noir as the ace of spades. However, if noir is, as I perceive it, suspense mixed with the visceral but hopeless agony of despair and pointless wrestling against a fated destiny best exemplified in the works of writers like Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson, then Burn might better be termed blanc. Cage, the detective, while fallen from the grace of the police force, has no anxieties, no major character flaw, no obsession, no devil riding his back until every new day is fresh torture (e.g., Detective Creighan in the British series Touching Evil) -- and the same applies to the remaining characters. In an exchange with me, Mr. Lyons proposes that the darkness in the characters' lives is that they are all failures: "Cage as a hero; Jonny as a human; and Kali and the [NewSchool] Grrls as a post-Utopian society." However, while I won't deny this, the characters don't seem to be particularly broken up about their failure.

If you are a fan of technoir or cyberpunk, then by all means pick up a copy of Burn, available in hardcover, trade paperback and a number of electronic formats. Otherwise, expect a light entertaining read with well-developed characters, good pacing and a tight plot, but little in the way of edge or suspense. Either way, Jonathan Lyons seems to be an author with some potential, but who perhaps needs to let his characters suffer a bit more before he returns to the genre.

Copyright © 2001 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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