The Nebula Awards will be announced May 19, 2018. The awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This post is the fourth in a series of reviews of the nominees for this year’s Nebula award for best novella. The Nebula defines a work as a novella if it is between 17,500 and 40,000 words. These are short books.
The Half Price Books store in my town used to be in a rundown house, with a few cats running around underfoot. I’d go to the science-fiction/fantasy section, blow dust off of the yellowed pages of the paperbacks, and try to find some hidden gem by an author I had never heard of before.
Past-me would have loved to have discovered Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen in those stacks. It’s about a chaotic good stage hypnotist con man that travels around the universe with a pet dog/buffalo/alien/thing that eats anything (ANYTHING) going to an auction for a rare bottle of liquor on a shady casino outpost on Triton. Shenanigans ensue.
Barry’s Deal (apparently) continues the adventures of The Amazing Conroy, the aforementioned chaotic good stage hypnotist con man. I say apparently because I haven’t read any of the previous books involving that character or this universe. This review will therefore be a lot more useful to those new to the series than long-time fans because there is no way that I can compare the quality of Barry’s Deal with, say, Buffalito Destiny. So, newbies….
You can read and understand Barry’s Deal without reading any of the other books in the series. It feels a little like turning on any random episode of Doctor Who. You are able to perceive that the characters have prior relationships and that you’re missing some nuances here and there, but you are provided enough information to get up to speed pretty quickly. While reading Barry’s Deal, I never felt lost or frustrated due to a lack of information, only that I needed to see some previous “episodes” to find out how X happened.
It’s lighthearted but not really funny. It’s got action without being violent. It’s well-paced, providing enough characterization that you care how the (relatively) non-violent action turns out. There are mysteries, but they are usually resolved by deux ex machinas or random info dumps. The main character gets by on his wits and a little help from his friends (and buffalo dog alien thing). So, pretty much exactly like Doctor Who….
It’s not a very deep book, but it does provide some interesting insights into the way humans think and frame information, without being super-technical or pedantic, which is an achievement in itself given that the author holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology.
Barry’s Deal is a nice change of pace from some of the more serious and depressing entries for the Nebula Award. I don’t know that it will take the top prize, but I am glad that fun, lighthearted, sci-fi adventures are able to be recognized.
My rating: 4 stars