Friday, July 22, 2011

The Hammer by K. J. Parker

On the surface level, The Hammer feels like a novel.  There are characters, backstory, and the framework for tension, but events never seem to become anything more than an outline.  It is as if the passage from concept to meaningful, fully-fledged, weighty production never happened, or perhaps such a change happens only it didn't have a chance to mature.  I struggled getting through this novel and only did so out of past enjoyment of the authors Purple and Black and Blue and Gold.  
So there is a "Colony" a "Company" and an oft mentioned "Home."  Oh, and there are also some "Savages…"  None of which are ever given proper names a la real life which serves to facilitate my feelings of the book being an elaborate concept.  These 'place-holder' names don't have much depth and they seem to be mentioned in the same superficial way you may tell a story to a friend and reference, "that guy at the bar."  The 'Company' has a monopoly on all goods used, bought  and sold on the "Colony."  The colonist pay rent the 'Home' government by way of cattle.  There is an out of favor high and once mighty family the met'Oc (I've long since had a dislike for the author's naming conventions) who live on the Colony.  They occupy a space marked by near destitution, yet able to inspire fear to all the colonist because one of the met'Oc boys occasionally plays the part of a dangerous lunatic.  They are also the only people in the colony with weapons of any sort: swords, and a brace of pistols. 
I had a hard time taking any of the characters seriously and though the better part of book deals with Gignomai met'Oc--yes that is his name--he was the most unrealistic of them all.  Gig, as he is called, doesn't much like his family and runs away to the other side of the colony which is still within spitting distance of his family.  He then decides to start a bloodless revolution against Home and the Company's monopoly by building a factory so the colonist can provide for themselves.  Main character or not Gig is as substantial as "that guy at the bar:" a cheap vehicle for a shallow soon-to-be-forgotten anecdote.      
Slowly.  Ever so slowly, Parker introduces a measure of tension.  Things aren't what they seem, motives aren't as they have been stated, and apparently there is a killer inside us all.  There are social problems with the met'Oc and the rest of the colonist and eventually we learn of a very twisted family history.  The major plot points and revelations felt weak and more like a "hail Mary" pass in an attempt to redeem the previous three-hundred pages of strong, yet unrealized, ideas.
Parker excels in the small exchanges.  The one on one conversations where thought or ideas are discussed between characters of conflicting interest are wonderful.  These moment are to infrequent and don't have enough bearing on the primary plot to warrant a recommendation to read the book.  Previously I had thought Parker to be synonymous with awesome; now I'll proceed with caution concerning any further books by the author that stray from the color-wheel.  

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