I’m told you’re supposed to start book reviews with something positive. Liquid Cool isn’t the worst book I’ve ever read. It’s not the most offensive, or the most appalling. It isn’t even the most poorly edited. But that’s probably the extent of the positive things I can say about it.
Liquid Cool passes itself off as cyberpunk detective novel, but calling it that is a bit of a stretch. Cruz is a laborer in generically-named Metropolis. He restores cars and does odd jobs, none of which are particularly interesting, or of much interest to him. What Cruz really wants is to be a detective.
To be more accurate, Mr. Cruz wants desperately to be cool. He wants to be able to say he’s engaged in a profession that people find dangerous and exciting. He yearns for fame and respect the same way a borderline-obese middle class kid yearns for a third slice of cake– he already has plenty, it probably won’t be good for him, but he’s convinced that he absolutely has to have it.
Unfortunately, according to Cruz, there’s a lot standing in his way. In his eyes, his biggest hurdle is Metropolis’s bureaucracy and the exorbitant price of a detective’s license. However, this doesn’t stop him from promptly setting up shop as a “consultant” to circumvent those restrictions. Perhaps the greater barrier to Cruz’s success is the fact that his sole experience as a detective stems from that one time he hunted down the guy who scratched his beloved car.
There’s also the fact that our protagonist is a violent germaphobe. His abhorrence of dirt, blood, and grime in all its forms leads to a narrative punctuated with Cruz’s sniveling misery at having to sully himself with the germs every time he gets icky while doing detective stuff.
Despite Cruz’s phenomenal lack of credentials, some Very Powerful People (who he just happens to know through his car restoration business) request he look into a suspicious shooting. And if you were hoping the story would get more exciting and believable from there, I have some bad news for you.
This Is a Detective Novel Only in the Loosest Sense of the Term
Liquid Cool hops from one unbelievable coincidence to another with remarkable consistency, and a remarkable lack of consequences for our protagonist. The baddies are all very bad, but fortunately none of them seem to be very bright or have good aim. The Powers That Be in Metropolis are all about cracking down on law-breakers, except where it comes to Cruz and his illegal firearms, his frequent involvement in shootouts, and his illegal consultation business.
It’s less of a detective yarn and more of a loosely connected series of convenient events. Cruz doesn’t ferret out answers so much as they fall on him (or are revealed via pages and pages of painfully tedious exposition.) When Cruz starts to get bored of one mystery, the solution conveniently pops up. He wanders around for a bit, basking in the glow of a case “solved,” until the next mystery forces him to pay attention to it.
There’s lots of action, but none of it really hits home with Cruz or the audience. It has all the impact and realism of someone narrating a video game shootout. Conflicts arise and are conveniently resolved in the space of a few pages or chapters.
Cyberpunk? Not So Much
Liquid Cool bills itself as a cyberpunk detective novel. But while it’s an attempt at a detective novel, the same can’t be said of the cyberpunk angle. Sure, a few cheap offerings are made at the altar of gritty neon, retro futurism, and a neo-noir aesthetic. We’re told that Metropolis is incredibly dirty and crime ridden, and supposedly there’s tons of homelessness and drug use that takes place somewhere off-camera. But there’s nothing cyber about this story.
The technology is the kind that’s horribly cliched and has already been done to death: advanced prosthetics, tracking devices, improbably fancy weapons, jet packs, hovercars, and video phones. (Yes, really. Video phones.) The author doesn’t do anything new with these concepts, or even explore them well enough to plausibly describe them or explain how they work.
All this technology feels like a facade. It exists in the story, but isn’t integral to it; a good editor could have peeled away the cheap veneer of futurism and left us with a more believable present-day narrative.
There’s also nothing punk about this story. Our protagonist is firmly middle class, although he feels very sorry for himself. After all, there are others out there with far more, and why should they have it when he doesn’t?
Even the characters who supposedly came from rough backgrounds don’t seem to have ever felt the effects of those origins. I have nothing against authors writing about things they haven’t experienced, but if you can’t even wrap your mind around the motives and mindsets of people from other backgrounds, you probably shouldn’t try to write about those people.
Liquid Cool isn’t about sticking it to the man or struggling against oppressive forces or fighting to live freely; it’s the story of an utterly unremarkable guy whose crimes are overlooked by the authorities, who pals around with the city’s elite, and who gets handed money and fame despite having absolutely no talent.
In short, it’s a mediocre middle class wannabe’s fantasy. It’s also one of the most mind-numbingly boring and unrealistic things I’ve ever read. Liquid Cool is cyberpunk without any of the cyber or punk.
The writing is flat, plodding, and often poorly phrased. A good (and probably expensive) editor could have rewritten this into something that was fun to read, but that kind of editing didn’t take place and it shows. We’re stuck with descriptions like this:
Fat Nat stood to his feet with a deep frown on his face to survey the damage. He walked to the bar and peeked over the counter. There was the kid, Hyper, lying on the floor, missing an arm, in a puddle of blood, but smiling.
“I’m good, boss.” He gave a casual salute with his good arm. “The blast cauterized the wound, so there’s almost no blood.”
It’s awkward, it’s clunky, and it’s factually contradictory. Is he lying in a puddle of blood? (Which is a lot.) Or was the wound cauterized by the shot, so there’s almost no blood?
The dialogue is similarly crippled. We have questions like this:
“Poke around can mean a lot of things,” Fat Nat said. “I still don’t know why him?”
“And? You really believe Easy Chair Charlie spontaneously went psycho and shot up his second home, Joe Blows, and go bullet-to-bullet with the cops?”
Whoever edited this book also clearly struggled with punctuation:
“I’m here to see, Mr. Smalls,” I said to the lobby receptionist.
Sadly, these aren’t isolated examples. The lack of quality editing make this book truly painful to read.
At many points in the story, and especially when the narrative bogged down into page after page of pointless exposition, I was tempted to put this book down and not pick it back up again. Those of you who follow me know it’s extremely unusual for me to do that; I’ve only DNF’d a handful of books out of thousands.
Narrative: 1 star
There’s no compelling conflict. The protagonist and supporting characters were completely unrelatable. The plot wanders from one shiny thing to the next, often only making a halfhearted attempt to resolve those conflicts. The ending drags on for another twenty percent after the curtains should have closed.
Characterization: 1 star
A nickname and one character trait does not a characterization make.
Writing style: 1 star
The dialogue is often bogged down with needless and repetitive exposition. The writing is full of telling rather than showing. Above all, this book is badly in need of a good editor.
Editing: 1 star
I’m not sure that any actual professional editing took place.
Final rating: A very charitable 2 stars
This book gets two stars simply because I generally try not to give one star reviews. The author wrote a book, and that’s a lot of work– even if it doesn’t really look like a lot of work went into this one. The author also went to the trouble of buying real cover art. Kudos to them.