Spider Robinson’s The Free Lunch

As with that of many authors, Spider Robinson’s August 2001 book, The Free Lunch, sank without a trace, overwhelmed by the great change in American priorities after 9/11. I had never even heard of it.

Well, honestly, you’re not missing much. I’m sorry to say that, because Robinson is a charming, moving, and clever writer when at his best.

The Free Lunch should be a charming cozy sf mystery along the lines of Dream Park, or an sf technothriller along the lines of Oath of Fealty. Instead, it’s just confused.

1. Very little happens. There is some nice worldbuilding, but very little is ever done with it. I was honestly expecting the book to detail every section of the park and make use of them in scenes, but we actually only “see” a couple of them, for about five seconds.

2. This is interrupted by one good action scene, and one incredibly nasty bit where the author decides to have the villains torture the protagonist. Not much actual damage is done in the event (although a finger is injured), but it includes the villains threatening the kid’s privates.

He’s a little kid. I don’t care who you are, you don’t torture little kids in a “charming” or “cozy” story, or even in a technothriller. If you do that in a story, it immediately becomes a very dark horror story.

3. The villains are defeated, but the big villain essentially goes unpunished. Only a henchman suffers. I don’t know if there was a sequel planned or what, but I don’t think that counts as a real ending.

4. There’s a secret in the book that ends up being revealed, but it’s so big that it ends up adding nothing to the book, and we don’t see it actually do anything. So basically, there’s an essay about how cool it is.

5. Meh. Basically a first draft instead of a book.

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