Brian Francis Slattery’s debut novel, Spaceman Blues, begins with the disappearance of Manuel Gonzalez, the boyfriend of Wendell Apogee. Wendell isn’t willing to accept that Manuel is actually dead, and knowing that he has contacts with a whole assortment of random people sends him off to find his whereabouts. Of course, it’s not that easy, and long the way he encounters an underground civilization, alien assassins, and weird offshoot of the Catholic Church.
Slattery spreads the narrative over a fairly diverse cast, and the connections between the characters never seem too strained. Every sentence is packed with information, and the author’s style involves an absence of verbs that contributes to this. Oddly enough, the affectation works pretty well, and though there are times during the narrative when the reader is quite lost as to what is happening, by the resolution everything makes perfect sense.
There are a lot of mythological parallels in the novel. For one, Wendell’s descent into the underground civilization in order to return with his lost love comes straight from Orpheus, but the progression of the story never goes beyond this and one wonders of the parallel was unintentional. The alien assassins are called the Four Horsemen, which fits well with the apocalyptic tone of the Catholic sect. Though the narrative ends before any apocalypse can come to be or be averted, this allusion to the Bible actually works quite well.
That lack of conclusion is likely to turn off many readers, but as Slattery accepts some of the genre conventions of science fiction, he also maintains a more literary sensibility that allows him to end the narrative without playing out every note. Not in the sense that there will be a sequel, but that when Wendell’s arc is finished, the novel concludes; the novel’s about Wendell, not the world facing alien invaders. The aforementioned stylistic devices Slattery uses also can be distracting, especially at the novel’s opening when one may feel as though they just can’t ‘get into’ the narrative.
In all, I found Spaceman Blues to be fairly enjoyable, especially because unlike so much of genre fiction, this was constructed as an exploration of characters rather than a focus on plot. With a new novel about the US after a complete economic collapse that leads to chaos, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Slattery’s name mentioned in the future among such genre-defying authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.