The Big Idea: Richard Kadrey

Are you a loser? You just may be! If you are, Richard Kadrey argues, you are in some fine company — and indeed, some of your favorite fictional heroes may just be there in the loser camp with you. Kadrey gets under the skin of Devil Said Bang, his latest installment in his excellently deranged Sandman Slim series, and looks at how losers populate his book front and back… and why that’s a good thing.

(Note: Some spoilers below for those of you who have not caught up with the series to date)

RICHARD KADREY:

As Devil Said Bang opens James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has been tricked into becoming the new Lucifer when the old Lucifer hightailed it out of Hell. This is kind of thing is pretty much just another day for Stark. He’s survived Hell’s arenas, argued with God, bitchslapped the Devil, and saved the world a couple of times but that doesn’t change the most the most salient fact of his life: He’s a loser.

I don’t mean that as any kind of put down. The truth is that most of us are losers in one way or another. We started out thinking our lives would be one thing and however successful we might be, most people secretly dream of being something else. Bankers want to be rock stars. Rock stars want to be Picasso. Actors want to be writers. Writers want to be, well, pretty much anything easier than being a writer. Ninety-nine percent of the world is made up of losers and that unites us against the one-percent who got exactly what they wanted and are happy with it. Fuck those people. They have no imagination. Or they’ve put theirs on ice so they won’t wake up from troubling dreams about life as a cabaret singer, a pirate, an astronaut, or a tightrope walker.

I’m not the first writer whose books star a loser. Let me give you a famous example. If you’re a fan of this blog chances are you’ve read and probably love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Is there a bigger loser in all of literature than Arthur Dent? But we still care about him and root for him. And Arthur isn’t pop lit’s only loser and he’s certainly not the most famous.

Sherlock Holmes is a misanthropic creep and a speed freak.

Neuromancer’s Case is a geek with a drug problem, a bomb in his head, and a girl who’s either going to leave him or kill him.

Batman is flat out psychotic.

King Arthur? Massive loser.

Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo, and Juliet? Losers times four.

The X-Men? Laser-eyed losers.

Frodo saves Middle Earth and for his trouble ends up with the worst case of PTSD since Colonel Kurtz.

How do losers survive and thrive in the world? The lucky ones, the smart ones create a community of likeminded losers. Frodo has his Sam and other slightly damaged Hobbits. The X-Men have their coven of mutants. And even though he’s constantly rude to him, Holmes would be a complete wreck without Watson.

Stark has a few PTSD issues of his own. Wouldn’t you after eleven years as everyone’s punching bag in Hell? Stark plays at being a lone wolf (and sometimes has to be one) but he relies on a community to keep him sane. And who is his community? More losers. Vidocq, Stark’s surrogate father, is a quality thief and brilliant alchemist but he also blew an experiment so badly that he’s turned himself immortal. Alice, Stark first girlfriend, was murdered and his current squeeze, Candy, is a recovering vampire-like monster. Brigitte, the zombie hunter, is out of job now that Stark has wiped out all the zombies, and her acting career isn’t going too well. Allegra, who always wanted a purpose in life, has one but it keeps her locked in her clinic. And then there’s Kasabian. What can I say about him? He’s a headless body on a magic skateboard. Even Stark’s sometime employer, Lucifer, is a loser. And there’s a certain deity in the shadows who’s having his own nervous breakdown.

All these characters gravitate to each other for the simple reason that even when they fight and occasionally consider murder they recognize themselves in each other. That’s what communities are: mutant families that exist because we can’t get along without them.

Losers might not be the ones who run the world but they’re the ones who keep it going. They make art. They raise families. They invent radio and alternating current (Yes, Tesla is the quintessential loser hero).

All the characters in my novels are losers and each is a hero in their own small way, just like the characters in so many of your favorite books, comics, and movies. Just like people in the real world. People who put one foot in front of the other and do the real work of keeping the world spinning and making it an interesting place. Losers rule, on paper and in life.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to put ice on my knee. I wrecked it playing street football when I was in high school. What a stone loser.

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Devil Said Bang: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt from the novel. Visit his Tumblr (some images NSFW). Follow him on Twitter.

20 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Richard Kadrey

  1. This being the third book in a trilogy, I highly recommend Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, and Aloha From Hell, then Devil Said Bang.

    I think Kill The Dead is my personal favorite of the books so far, but Devil Said Bang has more awesome knock down drag out fights. It had less LA, which I missed. Sticking a psycho ex gladiator from hell with nasty magic a murderous grudge and a death-wish into LA was brilliant. But watching Stark fuck with Hell was also fun.

    So buy all 4 books if you’ve never read them. If you like audiobooks, they should be on Audible. The narration is pretty good.

  2. Seconding the don’t just jump in. This is a series worth savoring every bit of bad ass losery. If you haven’t read all of them, go to the bookstore now. Just try not to shoot *everybody* in the face on the way there.

  3. My copy of Devil Said Bang shipped yesterday, and I think I’ve hit refresh on the tracking info about 100 times. I was really blown away by Sandman Slim the first time I read it. The series is dark and weird and violent and an amazing amount of fun.

  4. While of course the applicant may serve as his own lexicographer, I’m not so sold on the idea that all of these people are “losers.”

    The late Charles Schulz was once conducting an interview where somebody referred to Charlie Brown as a “loser.” This confused Schulz, who replied, “I never thought of Charlie Brown as a loser. A loser would give up.”

    I guess it depends on your definition of “loser.” In any given conflict, of course, there’s typically going to be at least one loser in the technical sense. But losing doesn’t make you a Loser. Only you can do that.

  5. I was turned on to Sandman Slim by my local bookstore, Uncle Hugo’s. I was mesmerized and I blew thorough Kill the Dead, and Aloha From Hell. This series is amazing! It’s main character is really, really hard to like but yet, he has become one of my favorites. Stark is like David Gemmell’s best characters in that he is a result of his life but can still choose to make heroic choices while still knowing he will end up paying the price.

    Also, I do like the focus on “losers”, because to me the true drama is how we live our lives. What choices do we make consciously, and what choices do we make without even reflecting. After life has beaten you down, what do you tell yourself to get back up and fight another day?

    @Marc Whipple, I do agree with your premise if not your main argument. Only you can make yourself a true loser. You stop trying.

  6. Holy cats! How did I not know this series was a thing in the world, when it appears to have been written just for me? The first in the series should be magic-ing its way onto my kindle as I type.

    That’s what communities are: mutant families that exist because we can’t get along without them.

    Great post! “Broken people make a home for each other” is my favorite story. This sounds like a particularly awesome telling of it.

  7. Make sure not to miss Kadry’s other book which shares a lot of traits with the Sandman novels – Butcher Bird. Stark is an enjoyable character but I found BB’s protagonist more relatable.

  8. Agree that you should hunt down a copy of “Butcher Bird.” Hard to find, but a great read and more of Kadrey’s awesome style. Stark is my favorite anti-hero.

  9. This book sounds interesting. Can you pick up this book and be able to follow it or do you really need to start with the first one? I am not familiar with the series.

  10. My copy came! Which is awesome, but now it’s sitting in my office, taunting me, as I wait for the work day to end. I guess I’m going to have to tell my boyfriend I can’t come over tonight. Priorities!

    @Guess, I would say you should start at the beginning. There is a LOT of stuff that went down in the first 3 books. You might be able to work out what was going on, but I don’t think it’d be nearly as enjoyable, and I think you’d still have a lot of questions.

  11. It is totally worth starting this series at the beginning. There’s not really a “ramp up”, expository, gently unfolding (boring) part in the first book. The main themes are there from the start, and it’s just that much more entertainment. You won’t have too much difficulty with the plot if you start here as Kadrey is good at throwing in just enough info when you need to know about something that happened two books ago without getting too “As you know, Bob”, but there’s a lot of wonderful character resonance and arc that you’ll miss out on if you don’t read the first three.

  12. My girlfriend loves this series and just handed me the first book a couple of days ago. It’s still a bit early for me to decide if it’s my thing. But I like his “losers” angle–I’m not a fan of protagonists who pull off world-saving feats with little evidence of effort or sacrifice.

  13. If you’re a fan of Harry Dresden books, but think Dresden isn’t dark enough, welcome to the Sandman Slim series.

  14. If you’re a Dresden fan and think Dresden isn’t dark enough then the REAL best choice is Harry Connolly’s Twenty Palaces books, starting with Child of Fire. It’s more the noir detective story in a world with magic. Sandman Slim is more of a hitter and more… mythological, I’d say, given the Heaven/Hell aspects.

  15. Richard came in and talked at an SF lit class I took at UCSC in 1989 (taught by Pat Murhpy), and I thought he was the coolest guy I’d ever seen. I picked up Metrophage, his cyberpunk in LA novel not long after, and, having been born and raised there, loved it. Many years later when I found out about the first Sandman Slim novel, I grabbed it right off the shelf, and finished it that night. I’ve bought every one since at publication, and though I haven’t started Devil Said Bang yet, I have a trip coming up and plan on enjoying it then.

  16. I echo everyone else. This is a great series, but you really MUST read them all. I read them last summer (got “Sandman Slim” as a Kindle freebie from Amazon), and even though it’s only been about 8 months, I’m 3/4 through “Devil Said Bang” right now, and find myself lost from time to time. Get the whole series, start at the beginning, and you will not regret it.

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