Book Review – Judgment at Proteus by Timothy Zahn
This first person pulp-detective story set in space is the fifth and final book in Timothy Zahn’s Quadrail series. It brings together characters from the previous books for a grand conclusion, and I found it a quick, fun read.
The main character, Frank Compton, is (I think) an intentional parody of the standard clever but uncultured private eye. He has, of course, a beautiful and brainy female sidekick, some cool gadgets, and a bunch of colorful acquaintances who either admire him, or hate but respect him. All the stereotypes are there, from former adversaries turned reluctant allies to the conflicted love interest.
The plot hangs together well enough, although there are some places where the details stretch believability. One that had me scratching my head was the case of the almost-sentient, genetically enhanced guard dogs that could press computer keys or rip out a large alien’s throat, but were not strong enough to press an elevator button. — Huh? Well, okay. If the dog could press the button, the protagonist would have had too easy a time in that scene, and we can’t have that. This is pulp, and part of the fun of pulp is that keeps the protagonist in peril. If it has to stretch believability to do that, well, that’s part of the charm.
Some things were almost too pulp, though. How many times can serendipitous events or plain blind luck pull the protagonist through a potentially lethal encounter without it being overdone? I didn’t count, but toward the end, I had the feeling that this book had maybe one too many such events. Then there were the many times when the bad guys and the protagonist would come face to face, often as part of a physical confrontation, and inflict soliloquies upon each other about their motives and plots and imagined cleverness. No matter how often the good guy has beaten the bad guy’s best (several), they still take time to discuss things before finishing him, which, of course, gives the serendipitous events and blind luck that are obviously following him around time to catch up and safe his ass. You would think that after the first few times, they wouldn’t allow him to talk and would just blow out his brains on sight.
Although I felt that the pulp detective clichés might have been overdone a bit in this, I still found it a fun read. If you’ve read the others in the series, you have to read this one just to see how it all ends.