Saturday, February 27, 2010

Book Review: Pleasure Model by Christopher Rowley, illustrations by Justin Norman

Pleasure Model by Christopher Rowley with interior illustrations by Justin Norman is the first book in the new Heavy Metal Pulp series from Tor. According to the book flap the line promises, "novels combining noir fiction with fantastic art featuring the themes, story lines, and graphic styles of Heavy Metal magazine."

In Pleasure Model, veteran sci-fi and fantasy author Christopher Rowley and interior artist Justin Norman deliver the goods with a story of murder, sex, and violence in a near-future American dystopia where the denizens of the underworld are known as "the uninsured."

The title character is Pleasur, a genetically engineered pleasure model designed to serve the sexual whims of her owner with a combination of maximum sex appeal and minimum intelligence. The rest of the characters are an assortment straight from sci-fi noir casting central: the hard-boiled honest police detective, the dominatrix with a heart of gold, the helpful madam, and the friendly master of the underground. But they're brought to life nicely by Rowley and prove to be a compelling cast.

The book itself is a quick, breezy read that ends in a cliffhanger. This is supposed to be Book One of The Netherworld Trilogy, and indeed it reads like the first act of a full-sized novel. This is sci-fi noir with some of the best features of the genre: adventure and suspense blended with an interesting mix of speculation about the future. Rowley's makes some interesting observations about where America has been recently, and where it might be going, and that gives this whole thing a bit more substance than might be expected.

An interesting feature of this book is that as part of this new Heavy Metal Pulp line it is heavily illustrated with black-and-white interior drawings by Norman, usually one-to-three drawings on every two-page spread of the book. Here's how this looks in print:

The illustrations add a nice cheesecake n' cleavage frosting to this gritty confection. A few of them -- especially one series illustrating the death of one of the characters -- are powerful enough to stay with you after you've set down the book. The sum total of text plus images is somewhere between novel and graphic novel, and it proves to be a pretty effective combination.

I can't say it ever feels like the illustrations are an integral part of the text. They feel as if they were added on after the manuscript was written, but they're a fun addition. I can see how a closely integrated creative team might take more complete advantage of this format.

Despite the decidedly adult content, it often feels like a heavily illustrated young-adult novel. Outside of we middle-aged fanboys, I wouldn't be surprised at all if it finds a niche among the 13-18 year-old boys who have always formed a core demographic of the Heavy Metal illustrated magazine's readership. (And hey, let he who didn't first come across Heavy Metal when he was 13 or 14 throw the first stone on this account!)

Summary: A fun read and an interesting look at what might be the start of an interesting new line. Well worth the quick read.

How acquired: I ordered it through the Science Fiction Book Club. The cover image caught my eye in the catalog and the description plus my curiosity about this new Heavy Metal Pulp imprint made me decide to give it a whirl.

Amazon (paperback): Pleasure Model by Christopher Rowley.

Science-Fiction Book Club (hardcover): Pleasure Model by Christopher Rowley.

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