Reviewed by: Arthur Graham
Genre: Science fiction
Approximate word count: 50-55,000
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A Tar Heel by birth, Michael LaRocca spent 12 years living and working in Asia before recently returning to his native North Carolina. He has edited more than 300 books over the course of his career. Conundrum is his ninth published novel.
“I'm on a starship flying to some damn place that nobody has ever gone before. No humans, at any rate. And boldly, I guess. I was born in 1964, but here I go in 2123, on past Earth and Mars and shit. Freaky.”
So begins Conundrum, security officer Drake’s account of one strange trip to the Pegasus system 50 light years yonder. Accompanying him is Miss Picasso the cat, a host of less consequential crewmembers, and the infinite possibilities inherent within them all.
On the surface, Conundrum may read like a scientific/philosophical treatise intercut with dirty jokes and snide remarks, but somewhere underneath it all lies a good, original story. LaRocca’s background as an editor of both fiction and nonfiction shines through in his polished prose and dialogue. Barry Drake comes across as likeable despite his swaggering cynicism, and while his proclivity for gender/ethnic jokes may wear thin after a while, I believe it would be a mistake to equate this general misanthropy with any specific bigotry (he describes himself as an “equal opportunity asshole”). In fact, much of the humor in Conundrum derives from these conflicts between the recently defrosted 20th century man (cryonically preserved for 100 years) and his seemingly more enlightened 22nd century peers. Like Kurt Vonnegut, LaRocca aims to expose the absurdities inherent in all aspects of human behavior, whatever the era.
I’m giving Conundrum a solid 3 out of 5, not because it left me lukewarm by any means, but because it’s the kind of book that readers will likely either love or hate. Those harboring a low tolerance for off-color humor or hoping for the standard sci-fi treatment might rate it as low as 2. On the other hand, readers in possession of thicker skin and looking for something different might find it deserving of a 4 or even 5. The term “conundrum” may not be purely synonymous with “dilemma” in this sense, but that is precisely the trouble I encountered in trying to rate this book.
Plenty of “adult” language/situations.
No significant issues.
Rating: *** Three stars