Jeffrey Thomas is one of those versatile authors who has established himself in many genres, although he is perhaps best known for the sci-fi/horror/mystery stories set in the milieu of Punktown.
Punktown is the nickname given to Paxton, an Earth-established colony city on the planet Oasis. In addition to being home to a multitude of alien species and interdimensional beings, Punktown is the setting for some truly incredible stories. Imagine if William Gibson, Dashiell Hammett, and H.R. Giger decided to collaborate on a project, and you might start get a feel for Thomas’s work.
While reading one of the latest Punktown novels, I decided it would be fun to revisit the original collection of Punktown short stories as a kind of primer for those readers who have not yet explored Thomas’s darkly entertaining world.
“Pink Pills” tells the story of a woman dealing with a fatal tumour that might be more than what it seems.
In “The Flaying Season,” a woman who has erased the memories of a violent rape and an unsatisfying marriage finds herself irresistibly drawn to an alien ritual for skinning large creatures called flukes.
In “Union Dick,” a detective in the employ of a workers’ union contemplates industrial espionage against a business that employees more robots than people.
“Wakizashi” deals with issues of diplomatic immunity and the death penalty.
In “Dissecting the Soul,” a pathologist discovers something unexpected while examining the memories of a serial killer.
“Precious Metal” tells the story of an assassination attempt gone badly, and a gangster torn between his loyalty to his crime family and gang of robots.
In one of my favourite stories, “Sisters of No Mercy,” a young woman takes a sorority’s initiation ritual to gruesome extremes.
“Heart for Heart’s Sake” is another take on art and life, with a former prostitute whose role in a piece of performance art results in her selling her body once again.
“The Pressman” is a darkly humorous tale about the increasing role of robots in the workplace.
“Unlimited Daylight” is a surprisingly heart-warming tale about the trials and rewards of cross-cultural and cross-species relationships. This was another one of my favourites.
In “The Library of Sorrows,” a police detective with a memory-recording chip in his head is forced to relive moments of violence and depravity he encounters in his daily life.
The book’s final story, “Nom de Guerre,” tells the story of a group of assassins taking part in a corporate contest held by feuding pharmaceutical companies.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the stories in Punktown is the way each one is connected to the other, especially when read sequentially. It truly shows Thomas’s proficiency at world-building. The information we learn about this world grows naturally as the reader delves deeper and deeper into the book. My only complaint, as it is with any great collection of short stories, is that I wanted more — more stories, and longer stories.
Which leads to the review of one of Jeffrey Thomas’s latest Punktown novels, Health Agent.
Montgomery Black and Opal Cowrie are health agents — operatives tasked with protecting Punktown from infectious diseases. A deadly new STD called mustav six-seventy is running rampant, and it’s up to the Black and Cowrie to prevent it from spreading. But this new bug is only the tip of the iceberg, a preview of something much worse lurking on the horizon.
As much as I enjoyed the Punktown collection, Health Agent allows the reader to more properly immerse themselves in Thomas’s world. The writing is tight and sharp, the story a satisfying combination of science-fiction and crime noir — “The X-Files” meets “Outbreak,” if you like.
Jeffrey Thomas has created something special with his Punktown books. There are plenty of titles in the series to choose from, but Punktown and Health Agent are good places to start.
Punktown was published by Prime Books.
Health Agent was published by Raw Dog Screaming Press.