Pulp Appeal: Sandman Slim

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Alright, admittedly, on the surface Richard Kadrey’s anti-hero James Stark might seem an odd fit for a pulp appeal article, what with him being a supernatural vigilante-type in an ostensibly urban fantasy setting. Scratch the surface though, and what you get is a high-octane version of that most basic of pulp tropes: the revenge story. Or in other words, they are the best damn B-movie novels[1] you can get your hands on.

The reader meets James Stark (the eponymous Sandman Slim) as he’s just escaped from Hell, having been trapped their by his former compatriots in a black magic cabal. Stark’s back and looking for blood, not just because of what was done to him, but because he found out his former girlfriend had recently been murdered… and the culprits were the same people that sent him to Hell in the first place. Stark’s seven years in Hell have made him tougher and meaner, having survived the gladiator pits and been promoted to assassin for one of Hell’s princes. What’s so pulp about that? Change the details to a con having recently gotten out of prison and coming back for revenge for having taken the fall, and you’ve got a classic noir setup don’t you?

Part of the unabashed joy of Kadrey’s writing is watching Stark act like a metaphoric wrecking ball, crashing through the meticulously laid plans of other characters. He’s a barbarian whose first instinct is always to hit back first, and lucky for our hero is able to take a punch/stab/wrecked Ducati/gunshot in return. He’s the outsider who scares everyone else even as they try and use him toward their own ends. Despite the nefarious factions arranged against him from Hell’s princes to Nazi-esque abominations birthed by the creation of the universe to zombies, none of them can withstand the sheer badass attitude Stark brings to the table.

The rest of the appeal comes from the supporting cast of characters, from the immortal alchemist Dupin to Stark’s girlfriend Candy (who causes nearly as much destruction as Stark), to Kasabian (a foul mouthed head and Stark’s business partner) to Brigitte Bardo (a zombie slayer who uses her career in porn as a cover). The characters transcend the cardboard stock that they might otherwise fall victim to, and Kadrey’s villains are the kind of amped up monsters you’d expect someone like Stark would have to run into.

Now ten books in, Sandman Slim shows no sign of slowing down, a fact I’m very grateful for.

[1] Kadrey also throws in enough references to B-movies to make it worth playing “Where’s Waldo?” with the references.

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