The Last Hot Time
by John M. Ford
A book review by Mark L. Olson
Tor, 2000, 206 pp, $22.95
A book by John M. Ford is usually worth reading and all too rare, so I was pleased to see this one come out. The Last Hot Time is set in the Borderlands world used by a number of the Minneapolis writers. The Borderlands are the areas where the breakthrough of the Elven world into our own is strongest and elves and humans coexist. (Don't feel you need to know the Borderlands universe to enjoy the story - it's self-contained.)
The Borderlands Elves are not Tolkien's Elves, they're old and subtle and very, very chic, but they're people also with at least their proper human share of evil and stupidity (but they never dress unstylishly.) They're cruel to us and to each other, but they're physically gorgeous. They appreciate good music, but their society is riddled with class differences.
Where the book is set is easy: Chicago - a Chicago which happens to be one of the borderlands areas and hence which is inhabited mostly by outcasts, both human and Elven: people with little connection to their own societies. It's a little harder to make out just when this book is set. Some things make it look like the near future, but the book is set in a world which looks a lot like 1930s Chicago. Never being quite sure when the setting was a constant minor irritant.
The story follows a young man, an EMT, who sets out for Chicago for obscure reasons and, through luck, falls in with Mr. Patrise, a gang lord who takes him on as his in-house doctor. The gang's life is pretty good: they live in a fancy hotel owned by the gang, and dine at a night club owned by the gang. What do they do? It looks like they fight evil.
Much of the story is about the gang lord's effort to locate and kill a particularly nasty renegade elf who is attempting to raise huge magical energies through something like necromancy practiced on living humans for some nefarious elvish purpose.
The story is an excellent one - and Ford has mastered the art of writing a story short enough you want more, rather than so long you're quite sure you've read enough by the time you slog through to the end.
My reservations lie in the portrayal of the elves. Ford's elves are the quintessentially cool kind of elves which I've come to dislike them enormously. I think Pratchett did the best job of critiquing them in his excellent Lords and Ladies, where the cool elves are trying to break back into the world and people don't really remember the last time they were around. All humans remember is the glamour: the unspeakable, inhuman cruelty is forgotten.
Ford's elves are the same kind of elves. They're inhumanly beautiful (at least the higher ones are) and inhumanly cruel. Of course, humans can be just as cruel as the elves and have been and still are. The difference is that it is acknowledged that it is wrong for a human to be cruel, while it seems to be accepted as just part of elvish nature.
I can't accept that. The elves in Ford's story are people and have to be subject to the same moral principles that all people are. If unspeakable cruelty - or even casual cruelty - is wrong for you or me, then it's wrong for the elves. Ford's elves are seductive and evil, and I think the story ignores that.
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