Da Vinci on the Lam: A Review

This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.


Moving on in our round-one readapalooza for Team Space Leftovers and the #SPSFC, the next book on my list was Da Vinci on the Lam, by B.D. Booker.

Straight off the bat, I loved the short chapter format. Each scene was a tidy snippet of action and setting and characters, and if I was reading at a more leisurely pace it would have been very welcome in terms of spots to leave off and take a break. I wasn’t taking many breaks this time (and not just because the story was so gripping), but my point remains.

Grizzled fixer Quinn (the alternate cover that I did not get on my ebook actually sums him up really nicely) is hired to act as a bodyguard and facilitator for a lady attempting to get a Da Vinci sketch across the continental US. There are several complications to this job, including but not limited to:

  • The sketch is being sought after by shady and heavily-armed government and private militia crime syndicate types
  • Transportation services are spotty at best
  • The world is shitting itself to death around our protagonists’ shoulders and it’s not a nice dignified hospital-diaper shit, it’s a gnarly wet-n-dry projectile shit that has already ruined the curtains and made several orderlies quit

Anyway here’s Quinn on a different cover than the one I got.

So, the aim of the game is to get the priceless Da Vinci sketch of the Vitruvian Man off-planet before “the grit” destroys everything. Quite why this piece of humanity’s lost brilliance is so important to so many of the characters is an increasingly surreal mystery, but the upshot of it is “it’s important to the little guys because the big guys will pay for it with stuff the big guys can afford but the little guys can’t, like life; and it’s important to the big guys because fuck you, we’re not paying you to ask questions and you’re demonstrating real little-guy thinking right now.”

I loved this story.

Earth is fucked, wholly and entirely. The story unfolds alongside some present-day ecological and climate collapse and in among flashbacks of past climate and social disaster that put the protagonists in the shitscape they’re currently trekking through. Quinn is doing it in return for passage for his daughter and her husband off-planet, even though he knows it’s likely a death sentence and there’s no happy ending on the horizon. What’s actually on the horizon is a Category 9 storm on a storm category chart that only goes to 7. It’s bleak but somehow … rock-orchestral in its absolute shambolism.

Enter the bad guys: the Onyx Group, led by a big boss literally named Big, because he’s a great bit fat bastard and that has become a status symbol – even a sex symbol – in a world of starvation and deprivation. Talk about history going full circle. As things go from bad to worse and the wealthy elites of the world retreat to domes to avoid the storms and bunkers to avoid the angry mobs, and the intellectual elites flee into space, the plebs left behind to suffer in the grit begin to realise how little they have in common with their Da Vinci loving overlords, and how much they have in common with each other.

They realise it way too late, but isn’t that just the human condition?

Sex-o-meter

I racked up one (1) sex in this story, and like in some other books I’ve read recently it stuck out a little as kind of weird and sex-of-convenience-y, since the characters didn’t seem to have that sort of dynamic or chemistry going on. But how would I know? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention and the Remaker really made them attracted to each other and that was what did it? Anyway, aside from that fleeting apocalyptic shag and a bit of slimy sexy-talk from Big and his minions, this was a story that had its focus elsewhere. And that’s fine. A Skippy out of a possible Booga for Da Vinci on the Lam.

Gore-o-meter

Life is cheap and humanity is rough at the end of days, but this could have been a lot grosser. We get plenty of action, some shoot-outs and deaths, but nothing too extreme. Storms kill a lot of people off-page, but off-page doesn’t count. Frankly I could have tolerated a little more gore and brutality in this one, it seemed the right place for it. But I’m not marking it down for the lack – it was fine. One and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

The emergent new life is a strange facet of this story. The grit is bizarre too, but it is all too plausible. I don’t know whether Venus is really a thing in terms of human habitation. I keep coming back to why Mars and Venus (Venus!) are more livable than Earth, with the same tech. I guess we have the bunkers and the domes on Earth too, and the story does acknowledge that a) large numbers are really not supportable off-planet and b) larger but still not huge numbers are supportable on Earth with the bunkers and domes. Not long-term. So anyway, this isn’t so much a WTF-heavy story as it is a solid eco-sci-fi and a dire warning of things to come.

My Final Verdict

If you’re easily thrown into a doom spiral over the inevitable collapse of the planet’s biosphere and the near-total eradication of the human species within our lifetimes, this may be a bit of a downer for you. Especially if you focus on the fact that the main glimmers of hope in this book – the adaptation to the grit and the new growth (let’s just gloss over the cannibalism required for protein), and the mass exodus to viable off-planet habitats – are made-up and do not exist in reality. So if this happens – and it is – then we are utterly and irredeemably fucked. Ignore that and you’ll be fine. I was fine. It’s fine. Four stars. I really liked this story. I’m having a good time.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy. https://hatboy.blog/2013/12/17/metalude-who-are-creepy-and-hatboy/
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