Psycho Shop - Alfred Bester and Roger Zelazny (1998)

Bester and Zelazny are two great names in sci-fi, so a collaboration between the two sounds like it has great potential. The fact that it is an unfinished novel by Bester, finished by Zelazny after Bester's death does not in any way diminish that potential. The introduction compares it to a jazz duet between two master musicians, an anaology which is perhaps apt. Improvisation when it works well is magical, but also very much of the moment. For a novel, the result is a fast-paced and amusing story but one which lacks the structure and craft to be truly great.

The premise is packed with tropes of the genre - time travel, a magical (or in this case, following Clark's 3rd Law, scientific) shop where almost anything can be traded including personality traits and ephemera like "genius", and highly evolved supermen and women.

The action veers back and forth through time and space, as our hero, Alf Noir, is sent to investigate the "magical shop" and it's owner Adam Maser. Along the way, increasingly disconcerting gaps in Alf's own past start showing up, leading to a final showdown.

The style is brisk and a lot of fun, and some of the asides or "riffs", if I may stretch the metaphor, are brilliant. Overall, however, it lacks coherence. While incidents and vignettes shine, the novel as a whole does not scintillate. It is certainly a pleasant enough read, but it will not stick with you the way that the great works by either author do.

Overall Grade: C+

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