Series: Koko (#1)
Publication Date: 2012
Koko has given up the life of a mercenary in favour of running a brothel in the utopian island chain of The Sixty. But her new boss, who is also her old boss, has other ideas. Ideas that involve Koko’s immediate death . . .
I read a lot of books, and my tastes lean towards more complex worlds. I’m heavy on worlds, low on characters. For me, science fiction should have some level of intelligence to it, be it technological or philosophical. All that heavy reading can weigh down on you though, and sometimes you want a book that you can just turn your brain off and be carried away by. Koko Takes A Holiday is that book. It is phenomenally trashy, and has the feel of a late night SyFy TV movie about it, but it’s undeniably a lot of fun too.
The back cover blurbs may call this cyberpunk, but it definitely leans more heavily into the punk than the cyber. It’s loud and flashy right from the start, and the noise rarely lets up. Barely a page goes by without someone being shot or something exploding. The body count is extremely high, and everyone is either drunk or a drug addict. There’s no real sense of consequences to anything that happens, but it’s fun enough to carry you along if you don’t think about it too hard.
In spite of Shea’s light touch, there are some great little nuggets of SF in here. State-sponsored mass suicide for the terminally depressed is horrific and hilarious in equal measure, in no small part to Shea’s depiction of media coverage. The world of capitalism run amok is bursting with ideas, far too many for one novel to explore. But exploration is not Shea’s approach. Amid memory wipes, medical drama and dystopian visuals, the focus is never off Koko and her helter-skelter fight for survival. There are times you can almost see the lens flare, and smell the gunsmoke.
While the overall effect is incredibly cinematic, Shea’s actual writing employs a real kitchen sink of literary devices. Some chapters are presented as scripts or newsfeeds. Most is in the present tense, but alternates between first and third person, while flashbacks are in the past tense. Characters speak in lingos and jargons and lisps to the point where everything becomes a dazzling blur of ink on the page. It never quite reaches the point of feeling disjointed, but the flow of Shea’s prose is such a scattershot one that fully immersing yourself in Koko’s world is all but impossible. But you don’t really need that immersion, because the world is fairly shallow. Like Koko, the reader is left to skim across the surface, glancing at the rich ideas as they stream past. It’s far from what I’d usually be after in a book, but it definitely provided that break I’d been seeking.
There are two more Koko books, which honestly seems like two more than we need, but if they’re anything like this, I’ll be reading them fairly soon. It’s not going to blow any minds, but Koko Takes A Holiday is the perfect palate cleanser between heftier reads.