Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Review: The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford

John M. Ford was a giant in the SFF world – having won pretty much every major award, including the Nebula, World Fantasy, and the Philip K. Dick Awards. He was known equally for novels and short fiction, and praised by writers like Robert Jordan and Neil Gaiman. The Last Hot Time (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) was published in 2000, just missing most of the internet revolution and the resulting attention. Tragic as his death was in 2006, it’s another tragedy that his work is largely overlooked in the vibrant SFF internet world (or at least the places I hang out).

The Last Hot Time is the story of Danny Holman, who leaves his small-town life in rural Iowa to experience the magical world of Chicago. In this case, magic is a literal term as parts of the world have merged a bit with lands of Faery, making magic a force of power and magical beings such as elves a reality. In a quick and violent moment, Danny becomes involved with a mysterious man simply known as Mr. Patrise, who takes Danny under his wings and introduces him to Chicago.

The Last Hot Time is a coming off age story, but it’s a coming of age story unlike anything you’ve read before. The world crosses millennial USA with faery lore and spins it with the 1920s-gangster world of Chicago, making The Last Hot Time a truly American story. Danny is the classic mid-west American young adult seeking independence in the big city of Chicago. This story follows him as he finds his place in the world, discovers who he is as a person, and gains a sense of responsibility for his impact on the greater world around him.

Ford tells a fast and confusing tale in only barely over 200 pages. The reader shares their confusion and disorientation with Danny, making for slow and even frustrating reading for such a short book. However, this is not a negative point for The Last Hot Time, but an intentional experience for the reader, creating a bond greater than the typical reading experience.

Ford’s writing is layered – The Last Hot Time is more than just a coming-of-age in America story, in some ways it is the story of America and its place in the world (or what should be its place). Included with the literal coming-of-age is a sexual awakening, with layers of its own meaning. To be completely honest, this book contains so many layers that I think I’d see and understand more and more with a re-read, and another re-read, and another…you get the point.

Interspersed throughout are the encounters with, and the writings of Lucius Birdsong, a syndicated columnist writing from the heart of magical Chicago. His erudite observations and writings add yet another layer to The Last Hot Time and another focus for future readings. The conflicted friendship Danny develops with this modern sage serves as a guide as Danny grows into his new place in the world.

So, what is The Last Hot Time? Well it’s an Americana, elf-punk, urban fantasy, gangster tale, love story hiding the classic American coming-of-age story that can serve as a metaphor for so much more. Or more simply it’s a new classic of SFF literature from a sadly deceased giant of genre and a must-read book. 9/10

2 comments:

Harry Markov: daydream said...

One word, kay?

AWESOME! I love the 20s and the style and the Flappers and the femme datales and when you mix that with fantasy there is bound to be an extraordinary experience.

Anonymous said...

Seems interesting. Got to get myself a copy real quick. :)

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