The most terrifying thing I ever do is tell people I like that I’ll read and review their latest work on my blog. What if I hate it? I don’t want to lie to you, so it would be better to just not review it at all, but I already promised I’d review it and I don’t want to lie to them, either, so arg. It’s usually easiest to never read anything at all–or, alternately, to just not promise reviews.
And then, like a chump, I told Howard I’d read his latest Schlock Mercenary book.
The good news is, the latest Schlock Mercenary book turns out to be my favorite story from the Schlock webcomic. BULLET DODGED. You see, given the nature of how Howard publishes, this story was online several years ago, and I read it then, and while I’d always enjoyed his work before this is the story that made me a fan. I love it. I won’t go into spoilery detail, but the plot begins as “in medias res” as it is possible to begin: a small group of our heroes is lost in a jungle, nearly naked and armed with makeshift spears, desperately defending themselves from a pack of hungry carnivores. And then the main character gets eaten and dies.
On, like, the third page.
What follows is a fascinating story combining science fiction, politics, medical mysteries, body horror, and the best romantic arc Howard’s ever done, all perfectly executed and tinged with a relentless sense of humor. The story bounces back and forth through time and memory, not just because it’s an effective storytelling technique but because it actually matters to the story, and could not be told in any other way. Punchlines turn out to be important science-fictional plot points; fascinating new technologies lead naturally to hilarious one-liners, and round and round in a circle of comics goodness. You might not have any idea where the story’s going, or how it could possibly resolve, but Howard knows exactly what he’s doing at every step of the way. And he does it very well.
Being his newest book, The Sharp End of the Stick is available right now for pre-order, and you should definitely pick it up. You’ll be glad you did.