Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Robert A. Heinlein and Mickey Spillane walk into a bar…
If they ever had sat down with a fifth of Jack Daniels and in the company of a sultry red-headed “typist” named Velma, a novel like Superego might have been the result.
The setting — an interstellar civilization, alien races mingling with humanity, Artificial Intelligence sending your escape craft jumping through wormholes — is pure 50’s SF, hearkening back to to the Grand Master himself, RAH. That part alone is handled with a scary ease that borders on mastery (if you hear envy leaking into this review, please disregard it as I am above any petty professional jealousies over the skill of my competition…er, comrades in pen).
Where the novel gets tangy are the elements of hard-boiled noir, with our “hero” a lethally competent hitman for a criminal syndicate that stretches for parsecs. Rico, the narrator, a self-aware, amoral killing machine by genetic design, brings the famous-Fleming humor to his struggles to appear “normal” even as he ruthlessly mows down the alien muscle that stands between him and his assigned target.
Things get complicated for Rico are when he’s mistaken for a hero, an actual good-guy, while he’s minding his own business and getting ready for another job (hit, that is). From there, the seamless blend of SciFi and hard-boiled pulp just gets better, with dangerous dames, double-crosses, and some very twisty plot turns, with some bonus deep questions about what it really means to be human.
The word play and humor are effortless — Fleming has a real knack for tossing off funny lines that are exactly what a character might say, but without the mugging and “aren’t I a whacky character” fluffery that lesser talents must fall back on.
Since it is a novel about a hitman, people are killed but mostly offscene and with none of the near-pornographic lingering on the details of a person’s agonies and demise that are so common in more “edgy” work.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Frank J. Fleming — I’m sure it won’t be my last.
Superego is a perfect Pulp/Pop-Culture Boilermaker. Take a hit of classic Heinlein galaxy-spanning space story, add a shot of Spillane hard-guy patter for extra kick, then sit back and let it work you over.