by Piers Anthony
His name first graced the shelves of my bookcase during sixth grade, accumulated and slid outward through the A section, pushing Isaac Asimov and Alan Dean Foster steadily to the right. His books are fun, quick, light, and addictive, SF stories that melt in your mouth, not in your hand, that give the impression not so much of reading, but of lazily watching the ensuing scene. They're usually underprepared, with scads of scenes that Don't Work As Intended, but Anthony's full-immersion worlds kidnap your disbelief and keep it forcibly suspended against your will; it's difficult to notice the seams unless you're looking for them.
It's almost like great TV without commercial interruptions. Almost.
This particular book revolves around Fisk Centers, taking us through a few years of his life, from retired bachelorhood to bankruptcy to various amusing jobs. Along the way he acquires an adopted daughter and a few dollars, and loses a bit of naivete` . It is a stand-alone book, by the way, which is a bit of a surprise in Anthony's sequel-crazed universe, and it measures up to expectations.
As the story begins, Centers has just received a call from a salesman. The sale? Martian real estate. Through a bit of trickery, he is persuaded to buy into the scheme, and promptly goes bankrupt.
(It is here that Piers Anthony's proclivity for detail shines through most brightly -- Centers normally wears a disposable suit produced each day by a household appliance, but as he cannot pay the bill, he is stranded, naked, in his apartment.)
He signs up for the only job he can get, a trader for a black market adoption service, and ends up, through a series of coincidences (and to save his legal hide), adopting Yola, an 8-year-old girl.
Centers then progresses though escapade after moderately interesting escapade. A few of these are laid out on the back cover, separated by lines.
Who'd be stupid enough to buy real estate on Mars?
Who'd drive a supersonic car in a suicide race?
Who'd go to a robot mortician for a free sample embalming?
And now you know the plot, as they say on Animaniacs. Much as that TV series revolved around the Warner brothers (and the Warner sister, Dot) repeatedly struggling to escape capture, this book revolves for the most part around episodes, not a unified storyline, and here its weakness lies: There is simply not enough connecting the disparate sections. Certainly, many of them involve similar events, but if you rearranged the middle three chapters (the book has only six), it would be just as entertaining, make just as much sense.
In short, this is not a good book by any serious critical definition. It has no true plot, only slight character development, and a theme that barely plays a role. The science, though imaginative, streamlined, and written up with a practiced flair, is a little out of date and not particularly convincing. A chapter or two bogs down in intricate legal manuverings. There is no denying that Hard Sell is engrossing and fun to read, though; quick, easy and fun.
If you are looking for emotion, for literature, for ice-clear characters, for words that mingle with your mind and a story that changes it, look elsewhere. If you have few hours to kill and want to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, then search no further.
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