Rarely does a title grab me; in part because of the old saying. But then I find about a book like Fistful of Nothing… Now that’s an attention grabber! Now, I’m not saying this because it reminds me of Sergio Leone, but it fills you with images of Film Noir action from the start. And this retro science fiction dystopia doesn’t skip on many sights, many frights, and faded Hollywood lights. Let’s dig deep into the Hollywoodholes in Fistful of Nothing!
The story starts out with a down-on-his-luck-private dick named Jim. After wandering in nostalgia about his childhood friend he called “Maddy”, he gets into trouble with some nasty fellows here nearly leave him for dead. After coming to, he traverses the wreckage of an underground urban nightmare called, “The Hollywoodholes.” After brushing through rusted train cars converted into saloons and technologically enhanced thugs, his scheme to track down the assholes that smashed him turns into a mystery to solve two brutal murders leading to interwoven conspiracies stretching throughout the underground art deco wastes.
In this timeline, the war never ended and technology looks like something akin to those pulp serials you can view for cheap at the town cinema. Technology was improved more so for war rather than improving mundane life. As a result, life fled to wherever it could (or in the case of this story), the ruined Hoover ville dystopia of an almost literal L.A. underworld. As Jimbo dives deeper and deeper into this hellhole, the character plots begin to tangle more and more, the motivations make more sense, and the sidetrack become more dangerous. Part I was a fantastic establishment of our world and our cast, while Part II moves everything in gear into a race to busting open a conspiracy for the ages. What starts as encountering a stiff and a femme fatale with a dark story to tell leads into more than just a night of trouble, to say the least.
What grabs me into the story is the language used throughout. It’s equal parts poetry and mid-century slang, mashed into an atmosphere that breathes classic film noir cinema. Everything in this book takes a look at an authentic world, right down to haunting shadows of yesteryear’s racism and sexism, all of which displayed as period appropriate grotesque social problems to the reader. While it was confusing at first, the more I read into it, the more appropriate and engaging the phrasing and style became. The prose does get a bit over-the-top at times, but you could easily say it improves the story rather than making it merely “purple prose.” In most cases, this kind of approach doesn’t work, but Glaser wields the pseudo-beat style with finesse, and the story is enhanced all the greater by it.
And like the flow of the book, the dialogue is worth taking a peek into as well! Like the characters, almost every line they say is fast paced, snappy, and fun. Heck, the antagonists are made fun through clever character, dialogue, and charm of their own. This, coupled with bizarre tech and schemes to match most over-the-top gangster and espionage fiction of the mid-century, but with more improbable super-science filled with post-war engineering and Tesla coils to go with it! Never does a character let me down. My favorite example (to parrot a reviewer on Amazon) is the tavern owner in one of the rusted out train cars. Jimbo wants some hard liquor and the owner tells him to drink puddle water and piss off, and I love it! You could say the world itself is a character. From faded Chinese food signs to the eponymous hangout known as “The Railcar”, this strange subterranean world has a lot to offer.
That isn’t to say the narrative and plot aren’t just as engaging, but the story itself has a rhythm in the word choice itself that keeps the reader hooked and moving from page to page. Sure, this is a throwback to private eye novels and wartime thrillers, but this story has more meat to it than the pulps of yesteryear.
You can see the influences cited in the back of Glaser’s book and then some! From the ruined technological dystopia of BioShock to too many pulp detective stories to count to maybe even samurai/spaghetti western cinema, many inspirations are blended into a unique wonderland of mystery, murder, and mayhem that Glaser can proudly call his own. And as a fan of all things weird, retrofuturistic, and dystopian; I can’t give this book enough love. If this is his debut novel, I’m more than excited to see what’s in store for next time!
Hollywoodholes Sonata I: A Fistful of Nothing gets 9 laser-guided revolver rounds to the chest out of 10.