KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY, by Kieran Shea: Patreon-supported review

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea
Titan Books, ISBN 978-1783298990, 350pp, MMPB, USD$7.99/CAN$10.49. June 2015. Cover artist not given.

Koko Takes a Holiday is Kieran Shea’s first novel. And for a first novel? It’s actually not bad.

Ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is enjoying an easy early retirement as a brothel owner on the Sixty Islands, a resort known for sex, violence, and its management’s homicidal attitude towards discipline problems among their direct employees. Koko’s enjoying the good life, until her old comrade-in-arms (and current rising Sixty Islands management star) Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to kill her.

Koko, however, is better at violence than the people sent to kill her. She escapes the Sixty Islands to a set of floating habitats known as the Free Zone, where the Sixty Islands aren’t supposed to be allowed to send a bounty hunter after her. If Koko didn’t run into any more trouble, though, this would be a much shorter novel: soon she has not one but three bounty hunters on her tail. Hers and her almost-unwilling accomplice, an ex-cop who had been planning to kill himself until Koko put a gun to his head. And pretty soon after that, she’s got nowhere to run, except right back to the Sixty Islands to confront Delacompte over this peculiar vendetta, and either kill or be killed.

The peculiar part comes from the fact that Delacompte voluntarily had parts of her memory erased, so she can’t remember why she’s trying to have Koko killed. Koko, on the other hand, can remember everything about her association with Delacompte, but she has no idea why Delacompte would wait until now to try to have her done in.

That’s the weakest part of the book, actually, the bit that makes the least sense. The rest is batshit pulp violence in a recovering-from-the-apocalypse landscape, but Delacompte’s tactics for dealing with Koko make no sense if Delacompte’s supposed to be even a little smart — and the narrative says she’s a smart enough sociopath to succeed in her environment.

So what did I think of it?

This is basically Quentin-Tarantino-as-SF-novel. Not that I’ve seen much Tarantino, but the style did seem consistent across my sample set of three. It reads as though it were written by someone who watched Kill Bill, said, “Awesome! But less coma, less weird relationship shit, more SF, and can we make the people who are trying to kill each other all women, no, really all of them?” and went off to make their own orgy of stylised hyperviolence.

This is a novel in which biting people’s eyes out is a thing. A ritual of hand-to-hand combat. Not just random eye-biting! But eye-biting as the trophy-taking mark of a subculture! This is a novel in which depressed folks living in floating habitats high in the atmosphere are encouraged to commit organised mass suicide at regular intervals. This is a novel in which shooting a random civilian barely even moves the morally dubious shit going down here dial, there’s so much else going on in the way of violence and murder.

That should give you some idea of whether or not it’s for you.

My own feeling is that it’s trying too hard. It lays the “life is cheap, death is easy, killing is fun,” on a little too thick: it’s about as deep as a puddle. It’s also trying a little too hard to be… sexy? I guess? I don’t know, there’s one unfortunate “woman examines herself in mirror and remarks on her own breasts” moment. And I have the subliminal impression that the reader is supposed to find these several murderous women fighting and killing each other to be titillating, even if the text doesn’t dwell on their appearance too much. It is, however, entirely possible that I’m reading that in to the text: I might be a jaundiced reader.

But for all its flaws — this is not a novel that wants you to slow down and think too hard about it or its setting — it has a certain gleeful pulp sensibility that’s very appealing. And an energetic approach to pacing.

I didn’t love it. I don’t know that I’d even recommend it, except under very limited circumstances. (Do you like VIOLENCE and LIBERTARIAN POST-APOCALYPSES? Then this is FOR YOU!)

But I’m pretty tempted to read the sequel.


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