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Bewildering Stories

Bruce Golden, Better Than Chocolate

reviewed by Darlene Santori

Better Than Chocolate
Author: Bruce Golden
Publisher: Zumaya Otherwords, 2007
Trade paperback: $14.99
Length: 304 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-934135-46-4
Though it takes off with a bang, Better Than Chocolate, at first, may seem a bit hackneyed. But keep reading and you’ll see it’s the understated satirical tone of the book which makes it anything but a cliche. There’s more going on here than just a search for a cop-killer, and the discovery of a conspiracy that threatens all humanity. There’s a subtle undertone of gonzo social commentary.

The book’s vibrant characters are both larger-than-life and true to it. Golden seems to populate his tale with stereotypes, but then breathes new life into them by turning those stereotypes on their ear. Some of the characters may seem whimsical at times, but their actions are always plausible. It’s a delicate balance of parody and punchy realism, but one which Golden pulls off.

There’s the celebrity talk show host known as “America’s Favorite Virgin,” a lusty, hard-nosed San Francisco police inspector, and his new crime-fighting partner, a Marilyn Monroe celebudroid. Yes, the film icon comes to life in Better Than Chocolate as one of several celebrity androids created for commercial purposes, to look and act like their originals. Comic juxtaposition often ensues when Marilyn’s original programming seeps into her police work. And, as with most artificial intelligences, Marilyn begins to evolve beyond what her creators intended. Though along the way, she proves an annoyance to Inspector Noah Dane, their relationship evolves as well.

This book is a lively, fun read–it keeps you turning pages and wanting more. Its tone reminds me of David Brin’s Kiln People, but, unlike that novel, Better Than Chocolate is more people-driven than plot-driven. However, the plot is there, and it’s a dastardly one that strikes at the heart of mankind. And, if you don’t already know what’s better than chocolate, you’ll find out as Golden’s quirky cast of characters leads you through this science fiction who-dunnit (or, more accurately, who’s gonna do it) towards a comically sexy climax.

Copyright © 2007 by Darlene Santori

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