Grasping for the Wind Rotating Header Image

Book Review: The Flaxen Femme Fatale by John Zakour

* Genre: Humorous Science Fiction
* ISBN: 075640519X
* ISBN-13: 9780756405199
* Format: Mass Market Paperback, 352pp
* Publisher: DAW
* Pub. Date: December 2, 2008
* Author Website
* Author Blog
* Read Sam 3.14 P.I., a hilarious webcomic by John Zakour.

Scratch any fan of “deep, serious, though-provoking” sf hard enough, and you’ll find, deep-down, someone who needs to read John Zakour’s The Flaxen Femme Fatale. Another in the series of stories about Zachary Nixon Johnson , the last PI on earth, Zakour’s hilarious tale is another in a line of novels that fulfills his mission of writing “bubblegum for the brain.”

We all need humor in our lives, but unfortunately for readers of sf, comedic versions of their genre are often stigmatized, Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams not withstanding. And not by the mainstream, but by the very fans of sf that are always looking for the cutting edge story, the trifecta of descriptors mentioned above.

But humor has its place, and a good place to turn for some would be The Flaxen Femme Fatale. Prior reading of other books in the series is not necessary (though a few of the in-jokes are funnier if you have). In this story, private investigator Johnson is due for his once-a-year saving of the world from some power-mad superbabe. And this case is no different. Hired by the army to capture Natasha, a woman the army bred to be the most powerful psi on Earth. On bad days (and that is at least three days a month) Natasha can kill with a single thought. Johnson pursues her with a combination of wit and sheer doggedness, with some help from his symbiont computer HARV and the always cheerful weapon GUS. But the question is, is Natasha, powerful as she is, really the bad guy? Johnson must discover that for himself.

This story is predictable but fun. You know, from the very beginning, that Natasha is not going to end up being as bad as she seems. The plot is simplistic, with Johnson jumping from one place to the next, always just avoiding being stopped in his mission by Natasha, the army that hired him, or mobs of mind-controlled zombie people. Even his normally faithful companions turn against him several times. But this predictability is one reason why I read Zakour’s work. It is comfortable and doesn’t ask much of me, but gives a great deal of laughter in return.

The real reason any reader should turn to Zakour’s book is the grins to be had on every page. Like its predecessor The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Flaxen Femme Fatale is full of ridiculous situations, tons of deus ex machina, and science gone wild. But unlike Adam’s story, the absurdity is kept to a more manageable level. Zakour’s novel has more wit and slapstick in it as well. A great deal of the fun of the story comes from verbal interchanges, full of puns, witticism, and the type of humor that both exasperates and entertains. Like Hitchhiker’s it mocks culture. A key plot element of the story is the PIHI-Pods, obvious analogues to the iPod. And there are many more.

I saw many similarities to John Scalzi’s humor as well. Much like Scalzi’s comedies, Agent to the Stars or The Android’s Dream Zakour never lets his tale get serious, and keeps the action coming so fast that readers easily gloss over any inconsistencies or flaws in the story.

The novel also owes a lot to Mike Resnick’s Stalking series. Zakour’s novel is very closely linked to those works in style, though Zakour focuses more heavily on the humor, less on the mystery. Zakour’s novel is also strictly sf, while Resnick’s stories could be more accurately described as urban fantasy. Still, I think fans of either one are easily crossovers for the other. So if you have read Resnick’s Stalking the Unicorn or Stalking the Vampire, you will likely find The Flaxen Femme Fatale to your liking also.

The work also relies on lots of verbal sparring, especially between Johnson and HARV. For me, it brings memories of the round robin joke telling my family and I always do whenever we are together. Any newcomer would think we were being extremely insulting toward one another, even hated each other. Yet we are just having fun at each other and our own expense. Johnson and HARV’s relationship is like that. It is camaraderie based on mutual amusement at each other’s differences. It is clever, but never mean, like the class clown who makes fun of himself or culture to make people laugh.

To wit, The Flaxen Femme Fatale is another entertaining novel from John Zakour. Read it when you are feeling down, have had enough of the “deep and though-provoking” novels on the bestseller lists, or just need an entertaining way to while away a rainy afternoon. Especially those of you who claim sf fandom, yet deride works of humor and entertainment as mindless drivel. Good humor is anything but mindless, and The Flaxen Femme Fatale is good humor, equal parts wit, slapstick, and SNL style dialogue.

Comments are closed.