Barry’s Deal: Frenetic and fun

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Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen fantasy book reviewsBarry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen fantasy book reviewsBarry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen

The world and characters of Barry’s Deal (2017) will require no introduction to long time Lawrence M. Schoen readers. The Amazing Conroy, a space-traveling hypnotist and his companion Reggie, a buffalito (buffalo dog), have cropped up several times before, not least in Schoen’s last novella (Barry’s Tale, 2014). Nevertheless, the internet assured me that this latest installment can be read as a stand-alone novella and, as it’s one of this year’s Nebula nominees, I gave it a go.

Conroy and Reggie have just touched down on Triton, an arcology known for its opulent casino hotel and black-market activity. Now fabulously rich, Conroy is hoping to participate in an illegal auction and bid on a rare bottle of Stonefish liquor from the planet Bwill (the liquor takes centuries to produce and drinking it is like ‘falling back into a distant geologic age’). Also with Conroy is his friend, the renowned gambler LeftJohn Mocker, who is attending the casino to investigate an allegation of cheating.

From the moment the threesome pass through customs (diffusing a rogue terrorist’s bomb-attempt as they go), the pace never lets up. Conroy quickly makes an enemy of the hotel’s nefarious owner, Allison Stein. He then discovers that the alleged cheater at her casino is none other than his friend, Angela Colson, a young girl with extraordinary powers. A cat-and-mouse game of discovery and double-crossing commences, complete with a foul-smelling alien ambassador (nose plugs are necessary), mind games galore and a soft toy called Barry. The plot capers along as Conroy attempts to help his friend and take down his new enemy.

This is soft sci-fi. At its heart Barry’s Deal is a heist story, plopped onto another planet. It could really take place on Earth without damaging the story and there’s certainly no detail about spaceships or space travel. Nor do we hear much about Triton’s other inhabitants or its scenery. In short, Schoen doesn’t immerse the reader in a visual, tangible world, but that’s because there’s no time, given the frenetic pace of the story. Adventure is the order of the day and in that respect Barry’s Deal is a great success. Schoen is having fun, not crafting a literary masterpiece, and the reader is invited to join in.

That said, I still suspect that Barry’s Deal isn’t the best introduction to the world of The Amazing Conroy. Though the story is well-paced it does lack a depth that the preceding stories would presumably provide. For example, the reader won’t learn anything about Conroy from this story. His hypnotic powers are briefly mentioned but who he really is and how he made his money are not. It’s the same story for Angela Colson, the mysterious teenager. The reader is provided with the bare bones of her back-story but her personality gets lost in the process.

The buffalito, on the other hand, doesn’t need much introduction. With very little effort (in fact, he’s never described at all, leaving the reader to stick buffalo and dog together in their own mind), Reggie is the most loveable member of the cast. With his voracious appetite that can diffuse bombs and propel him through solid walls, he is a majestic creation.

Barry’s Deal is a fun story and, though it isn’t a perfect standalone novella, it is certainly strong enough to inspire the reader to go back and find out what they’ve missed.

Published in 2017. Barry’s Deal is the fourth novella-length adventure from multiple Hugo and Nebula nominee Lawrence M. Schoen and the next installment in the ongoing tales of galaxy-travelling stage hypnotist, the Amazing Conroy, and Reggie, his alien companion animal, a “buffalo dog” who can eat anything and farts oxygen. In this sequel to BARRY’S TALE (2014 Nebula nominee) Conroy and his buffalito, Reggie are travelling to Triton, to a casino hotel with old friend LeftJohn Mocker, a professional gambler with a double Coltrane rating. Why Triton? Well, there’s an illegal auction scheduled there where Conroy hopes to win a bottle of Stonefish liquer, and the Mocker was on his way there anyway at the request of the Probability Guild to investigate allegations of cheating. It looks like everyone will get what they want except… the cheater turns out to be none other than Angela Colson, an eleven-year old girl of incredible power. Conroy saved her life five years earlier with her plushie buffalito, Barry. Somehow she’s back, somehow appears to be in her late teens, and somehow has taken the casino for over ten million bucks! Throw in an evil psychometrist portmaster with a grudge against LeftJohn Mocker, a stinky alien with a secret, and a terrorist with a suitcase-sized nuke, and the state is set for hypnotic hijinks and some fine dining as only The Amazing Conroy can command.

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KATIE BURTON, who joined us in September 2015, is a solicitor in London and now an aspiring journalist. She was lucky enough to be showered with books as a child and from the moment she had The Hobbit read to her as a bedtime story was hooked on all things other-worldy. Katie believes that characters are always best when they are believable and complex (even when they aren't human) and is a sucker for a tortured soul or a loveable rogue. She loves all things magical and the more fairies, goblins and mystical creatures the better. Her personal blog is Nothing if Not a Hypocrite.

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One comment

  1. It sounds like great fun and makes me want to find the other Amazing Conroy stories.

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