Jeffrey Thomas’ Punktown is one of my favorite worlds to visit. It’s a place that’s so far-flung into the future and yet it reflects a lot about modern society and culture. Punktown is a mirror for ourselves, showing us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. War, poverty, corruption, love, business, family, and struggle all exist in Punktown the same way they exist right here and right now. In Deadstock, Thomas tells two stories. One is a hard-boiled detective mystery featuring Jeremy Stake, a soldier-turned-sleuth who has a mutation that makes his face mimic any other face he looks at. The other half shows two street gangs trapped together in a seemingly abandoned building, trying to survive against a futuristic security system gone amok.
While mysteries are unfolding, Jeffrey Thomas makes sure that we see all of his characters from all sides. They’re not just good or bad people. Everyone is after something and has their personal demons to deal with. Thomas is usually good about showing us both sides of every story. While his setting is the weird and hyper-futuristic Punktown, his characters stay true to basic human nature. While some of these people may be clones, mutants, aliens, or even a demon-god going through an apocalyptic metamorphosis, these are people with regular thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I feel like I didn’t get to see enough of Punktown or its unique culture, but that’s because Thomas puts a lot of time towards fleshing out these characters.
Similar to “Everybody Scream!”, Deadstock has a large cast, and not everyone makes it out alive. But while “Everybody Scream” was more cohesive, held together by the strange carnival setting, Deadstock feels less focused. I feel like the two main plots were really great ideas for short novels that were put together to form a full-length novel. They strike different tones. As soon as I started grooving on the hard-boiled detective stuff, the chapter ends and I’m thrown into the survival-horror genre. And vice versa. Plus, those two plots eventually converge. As the demon-god called Dai-oo-ika constantly evolves throughout the story, Stake’s missing toy case and the survival of a dozen gangsters suddenly lose weight.
“Everybody Scream!” remains my favorite Jeffrey Thomas book, along with several of his short stories, but Deadstock is still a really good read. Punktown is always a fascinating place, and Deadstock treads new territory as hard sci fi with a soul.