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Lucifer's Dragon
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Pocket Books, 377 pages

Lucifer's Dragon
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta, and grew up in Malta, England, the Far East and Norway. He has worked as a publisher and a journalist. His novels include neoAddix, Lucifer's Dragon, reMix and redRobe. He lives in London.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Felaheen
SF Site Review: Effendi
SF Site Interview: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
SF Site Excerpt: Effendi
SF Site Excerpt: Pashazade
SF Site Review: Pashazade
Extract from redRobe
Extract from reMix
Extract from Lucifer's Dragon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil


'Smoke trickled towards the ceiling, lost in the general cloud of joss as the woman ran down Passion's list with her own alternative recommendations. The old woman wasn't even a quarter of the way down the list when Passion realized with embarrassment that she'd based her own requirements on what had been available when she was in her teens, not what was on the market now.'
The old saying -- don't judge a book by it's cover -- was never truer than with Lucifer's Dragon. A day-glow orange and lime green splodge, it's almost painful to look at. However, under the covers is a Gibsonesque cyberpunk tale of two parts, separated by a century, with the earlier events told in flashback. In the past, there's Passion diOrchi, daughter of a West Coast Mafia boss, and Kwai, her part-time lover and street smart right hand. Passion has a plan to rebuild Venice, in the middle of the Pacific. As a base, she uses a huge fleet of old, worn out, barely seaworthy ships, and couple of oil rigs. A modified form of coral binds and builds the ramshackle foundations. Fast forward a hundred years, and New Venice is firmly established, with a central area of extreme opulence, surrounded by bolt-on floating slums. Count Ryuchi, and the other members of an equally divided ruling council, maintain the status quo, under the symbolic rule of the Doge, a 10 year-old boy named Aurelio. The Doge, who has no real power of his own, is under round-the-clock surveillance, protected by WeGuard, and his personal, exotically enhanced bodyguard, named Razz. Then the Doge goes missing, and Razz is dead, except that she's just woken up in a new body. As these few examples show, Lucifer's Dragon has bags of invention, a huge sprawling idea, and some attractive characterisation. There are a few problems, such as when the author makes the mistake of naming real world software and components. At the time of writing the book, the kit mentioned was seen as state-of-the-art, but today it feels long out of date. In general, though, Grimwood's projections and assumptions are still far enough ahead to be in the era he's writing about.
'Angeli wasn't sure. He wasn't good at unaugmented thought but, much as he'd like to, he couldn't risk borrowing an official NVPD neural net to help him on his way.'
We see most of New Venetian history via a pirate DVD, replayed by NVPD Lieutenant Angeli Rispoli, as part of his investigation into a murder. His only real suspect, is a girl from the heights of New Venice, whom he discovers is Karo diOrchi, daughter of Count Ryuchi. Karo turns up in the slums, playing a video game called Lucifer's Dragon. This is a game which learns from its mistakes, is therefore almost impossible to beat, and never the same way twice. Karo beats the game. It was at this point that the book started to confuse me. The constant back and forth in time periods, and a lack of clarity as to how the past was relevant to the future, made me wish the author had benefited from sharper editing. I wanted to like what I was reading. The characters were interesting, the setting was novel, individual scenes were well drawn. But, somehow, my overall view was blurred. The exotically enhanced bodyguard, Razz, was one of the more interesting characters, who seemed to be playing a major role. Until she put herself in a situation, which no character with her background would ever allow, resulting in sexual abuse which came over as completely unnecessary to the story. Later, just as she is on the verge of either completing or failing in her mission, the character was abandoned. If there was a more than a line to explain what the heck happened, then I missed it. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Angeli was coming across as Judge Dredd lite, and the only living cop in New Venice. Count Ryuchi was conspicuous by his absence. Using confusion as a writing technique would, in itself, not have been a bad thing, providing that the reader was well informed. But I was just as befuddled as everyone else. I felt like I was being bombarded with channels, when what I wanted was the news.
'Refraction, Alex thought happily, looking at the blue water below. Waves of light in conflict with hydrogen and oxygen molecules, the water stripping blue out of the spectrum to let the rest pass through. Like life, really, or memory; How event appeared depended on what you filtered them through.'
There were some fine turns of phrase, individual characters, and a whole raft of enticing ideas in this book. But I found it quite hard going, rather like a film which tries to cram in three others, and by so doing, looses the focus on what makes us care. By the end, my head was buzzing with elements I felt were not satisfactorily resolved, and a tatterdemalion shoot-out ending. Jon Courtenay Grimwood certainly has talent, and the ability to create an interesting cast. But in this book, he's suffered from too much of everything, and poor editing.

Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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