The Red King
by Nick Cole
Amazon Digital 2005
$0.00; 285 pages
I don't usually read ebooks. I have an irrational love of physical books, with their scent of slowly oxidizing paper. I find that I will do almost anything to avoid reading ebooks. Thus despite having over 700 physical books in my house, I only have a dozen or so ebooks.
I picked this up because it was free. And because I liked Soda Pop Soldier. In a free moment, I pulled the book up on my phone to pass the time. I found that I could not put it down. That was a pleasant surprise. No other ebook has yet done that to me, although I don't make a habit of buying electronic versions of the books of my favorite authors. Nick Cole may just break me of that habit.
I like The Red King because it is a pastiche. I hope Cole won't hold that against me. I like pastiche. Especially when it is done well. And this is done very, very well. I feel like Cole and I probably read and watched the same things growing up, because I really enjoyed all those sly references to other books, movies, and videogames.
However, just because your book is a pastiche, doesn't mean you lack imagination or skill as a writer. I usually judge authors by their characters, and the ultimate test is whether I feel like a character isn't a character at all, but a person. Holiday, the hard-drinking screw-up who finds that he has survived the end of the world because he was sleeping off a bender, seems like a person to me. I am inclined to cut him some slack, because I kind of like him, even though he knows his way around a bottle.
Much of the supporting cast meets my other criterion for good characters: they seem like someone I've met. A character created to fill a role, or a slot, or a stereotype just doesn't seem like a real person. However, most real people really are pretty stereotypical, and you have to observe them to be able to represent that faithfully. Reading about people who seem like I could run into them on the street makes a book a pleasure to read, and this book was indeed a pleasure to read.
Finally, I just like the end of the world. I've been reading both fiction and non-fiction on this subject for 15 years, and it is perennially interesting. The apocalypse is about us: who we are, and who we'd like to be. Every end of the world has it's own story to tell, and I'd like to see where Cole is going with this. Oh, and look, I can got get the other books right now....