Book Review: Stringers, by Chris Panatier

OK people, strap in, things are going to get weird. That’s right, it’s time for my review of Chris Panatier’s new novel, Stringers. Chris has been coy about the exact nature of the plot on social media, which has only made me more desperate to know what it’s about. Damn his craftiness. Allow me to try my best to explain it to you while I review it.

This fair and unbiased review was conducted based on an uncorrected proof of Stringers, provided for free by the publisher, Angry Robot.

Consigned to the tedium of working in a bait shop, Ben has little going on in his life. His days are spent engineering the perfect fly fishing lures, while his evenings are spent trying to work out just how the hell he knows how to make the perfect fishing lures (amongst other bizarre trivia which he couldn’t possibly know naturally), or getting stoned with his best friend Patton. Ben’s life takes a turn for the terminally interesting when a flesh construct bounty hunter shows up and abducts him, hoping to use Ben’s knowledge of “The Chime” to land a big pay day. Of course, that might depend on whether Ben can remember what the Chime actually is, or what he’s supposed to do with it.

Ben is “aided” in his quest – possibly a slightly charitable term in this case – by the loyal Patton, who has unwittingly volunteered to accompany him on his travels across space. The relationship between Ben and Patton is a source of plenty of the comedy throughout (spoilers – Stringers is pretty damn funny), with the lumbering stoner playing the comedy sidekick role to an absolute T. There’s a bit of a Peter Parker and Ned vibe to the pair, if Peter was considerably less super and considerably more flawed and Ned was constantly ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms. Both are easy to root for from the off – regardless of whether or not you’ve ever worked in a retail environment, Ben’s deadpan comments to frequent browser (and never purchaser) Jim will make you like him instantly, and Patton is, quite simply, the king of the loveable goofballs.

Just like with The Phlebotomist, it’s difficult to get too much into the plot of Stringers without running the risk of spoilers, and Panatier has done such a good job with the whole affable obfuscation bit on Twitter that it seems a shame to shed too much light on things now. It’s even kept up as we get into the book itself; a warning that you’ll need a mirror later on turns out not to be a joke (it’s perfectly justified, incredibly), and cryptic foreshadowing abounds. Oh, and if you’ve seen anything on the socials of Panatier’s trivia on bug sex – or, as I like to call it, bumping uglies at the ugly bug ball – rest assured, all that had a point. Stringers is replete with footnotes which are by turns informative, amusing, gross or frequently all of the above. They’re often on the theme of bug sex, and the fourth wall isn’t so much broken as it is gleefully demolished repeatedly throughout them. Ben likes to argue with his own brain you see, which proves to be another rich vein of comedic gold.

While carefully skirting around some of the details of the plot, what I can say is that things get considerably more epic than you might expect, Panatier showing that he’s equally as adept at crafting an entire universe for a comedy-tinged space opera as he was at creating the unsettling dystopian world of The Phlebotomist. It’s another mash up of a few different ideas too – there’s a heist movie feel to some elements, as a team with specialised skills comes together to track down Ben, as well as the buddy movie feel of Ben and Patton’s relationship, plus plenty of large scale action packed moments. There’s some extremely in-depth world building in there too, with some deep ideas to chew over. Crucially, all these elements just mesh seamlessly; it never feels like things are novel just for the sake of being novel.

In case it wasn’t clear by this point, I loved Stringers. It’s playful in its narrative approach, it’s stuffed full of loveable characters and wonderfully constructed relationships, and its humour is perfectly pitched. On top of that, it has some very cool ideas about the nature of existence, and manages to build up to a climactic finish worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. A big hearted work of fertile imagination.

Stringers is out on the 12th of April, and will be available in print and in lovely DRM-free eBook form from those steely benevolent overlords and purveyors of all things genrefluid, Angry Robot.

Currently reading: Elysium Fire, Alastair Reynolds
Currently listening: Hymn to the Woeful Hearts, Pure Wrath

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Stringers, by Chris Panatier

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