Saturday, April 27, 2013

Flying Dutch - Tom Holt

    1991; 252 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Fantasy; Humor.  Laurels : 17th place  in Locus Magazine’s “Best Fantasy Novel” for 1992.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Immortality can last a long time.  Just ask Captain Vanderdecker and his crew.  They’ve been sailing around in their ship, the Verdomde (“The Damned”) for a good 400 years or so.  They hadn’t meant to become immortal, it happened by accident.  Blame the booze.  Alas, it came with an unwanted side-effect that really put the kibosh on interacting with other people.  So it’s best for them to keep to the open sea.

    Immortality also wreaks havoc with life insurance policies.  So Jane Doland is dispatched to find Captain Vanderdecker and work something out.  But how do you find someone who almost never comes ashore?

What’s To Like...
    The story is Tom Holt’s spoof of The Flying Dutchman, which is both a centuries-old legend and an opera by Richard Wagner.  You don’t have to acquaint yourself with either to enjoy Flying Dutch.

    The two protagonists, Jane and Vanderdecker, are well-developed and it’s a blast to get to know them.  There are lots of secondary characters – bankers, crewmen, a news reporter, a scientist, hired thugs, etc.  Some are good guys; some are bad guys; they’re all fun to meet too.  But their raison d-etre is mostly just for comedic relief.  Oh yeah, there’s a cat of indeterminate breed.  You’re gonna love the cat.

    There’s some Romance mixed in with the Adventure.  Tom Holt also manages to get some “pokes” in at things like Greenpeace, nuclear energy, and the world economy.  He has some interesting insights on the idea of living forever as well.  But these are all strictly second-fiddle to the storyline and the humor.  I like his priorities.

    The first 20 pages or so can be confusing, but after that the story zips along nicely.  Everything builds to a satisfying ending.  This is a standalone novel.  As with any Tom Holt book, the writing is masterfully witty, making this a fun read.

Kewlest New Word...
Cack-handed  (adj.) : Awkward; clumsy; inept with the hands.  (Britishism).

    Melancholy reflections on the subject of beer led him to even more melancholy reflections concerning the great web of being, and in particular his part in it, which had been so much more protracted than anybody else’s.  Not more significant, to the best of his knowledge.  His role in history was rather like that of lettuce in the average salad; it achieves no useful purpose, but there’s always a lot of it.  (pg. 3 )
    Vanderdecker typically blamed himself.  Instead of frittering away his time and money on beer and scientific journals, he should have remembered that he was, first and foremost, a ship’s captain and got some decent charts.  Quite a few of the ones he still used had bits of Latin and sea-serpents in the margins, and he defended his retention of them by saying that: (i) he was used to them, (ii) they looked nice and (iii) in the circumstances, what the hell did it matter anyway?
    Since his crew generally lacked the intellectual capacity to argue with a man who spoke in bracketed roman numerals, he had managed to have his own way on this point, but the short-sightedness of this attitude was coming home to him at last.  (pg. 48-9)

An over-excited accountant, like the University of Hull, is a contradiction in terms.  (pg. 188)
    This was my fifth Tom Holt book.  The plotline of Flying Dutch was as coherent as I’ve seen from this author.  His more-recent works (from 2002 forward)  are often over-the-top in zaniness.  They are also without mythology tie-ins, which can sometimes make following the storyline a bit of a challenge.

    That’s not a criticism; just an observation.  Whether you prefer his older or more recent literary style is a matter of taste.  If I had to choose, I’d say, “both”.  8½ Stars.  Add another half-star if you are already familiar with the legend and/or the opera.

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