Disclaimer! Ferrett is a friend of mine, who I met when I bought his (Nebula nominated!) story “Sauerkraut Station” for GigaNotoSaurus.
So, I got to read Flex some months ago. In fact, I fully intended to blurb it, but the best I could offer was “Do you like magic? Do you like drugs? Donut-based psychological theories? Video games? Do you like PAPERWORK!? Read this book!”
Yeah, I’m not so good at the blurbing thing.
So, in the world of Flex, the ability to do magic is a function of obsession. Are you a huge fan of something? Eventually your fan-ness will bend the universe around you. Except, of course, the universe will do its best to bend back, so using your abilities can be profoundly dangerous. For extra, super danger, you can distill that magic into a drug–the titular Flex–that the un-magical can take, and really cause some havoc.
Paul Tsabo, the main character of Flex, works for an insurance company. He pushes paper–he is, in fact, of the firm belief that bureaucracy is (properly used, properly followed) the instrument of justice in civilization. You could argue the accuracy of this, but there are several things that I find really appealing about it. For starters, often in fiction (and in everyday conversation) the minutia of keeping things going–accounting, record keeping, cleaning, what have you–gets short shrift. Accountants are very nearly a byword for the unimaginative and uncreative. And yet. Where would we be without those things? Without paperwork and proper procedures for things, records of things, receipts and certificates and applications? No, don’t just unthinkingly say “way better off” because actually that’s unlikely to be true, not without a lot of other massive changes to our lives. Don’t forget that writing wasn’t invented for poetry or literature or even history–the oldest examples of writing that we have are receipts and inventories. Writing was invented for paperwork.
Paul’s intense focus on paperwork has made him a bureaucromancer. You’d think this was an insignificant sort of ability, but it’s not, not when so much runs on documentation and permits and forms. And he’s got a problem–his young daughter has been badly injured in a flex-related incident, and the insurance company doesn’t want to pay up. And this is where the Breaking Bad comparisons you may have seen come in. Except I so strongly disliked what little I saw of the characters in Breaking Bad that I couldn’t watch much of it. But I really liked Paul, and I loved the hardcore gamer (and consequently game-mancer) Valentine who he teams up with. Together, they…uh, make crime. And fight it!
Flex comes out Tuesday, like I said. Give it a read! It’s great fun.