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.
Tales of the Amazing Conroy — (2009- ) Publisher: A former stage hypnotist, the Amazing Conroy really just wants to have a good meal. He’s now the wealthy CEO of a company that leases buffalo dogs, alien creatures capable of biting into and devouring nearly anything. When he attempts to implement a solution for cleaning up massive industrial waste sites, Conroy becomes targeted by ecological terrorists who resent the use of alien technology (living or otherwise) to heal the Earth. But kidnapping and the destruction of his corporate headquarters are the least of Conroy’s problems. An unknown, telepathic intelligence has begun invading his dreams, warning of geological disasters that hinge on what Conroy does next. Further complicating his life are several groups of aliens, each believing that he has a special destiny to fulfill, though they don’t necessarily agree what it is. Accompanied by his pet buffalito, Reggie, Conroy must elude terrorists, confound alien zealots, withstand temporal distortions throughout the former state of Texas, and explore ancient Mayan ruins. His adventures will result in his reunion with a long dead relative, a chance to experience the world’s greatest sandwiches, exposure to alien bliss, a battle with a megalomaniac on the slope of an active volcano, and a trip to the asteroid belt for a final face-to-face confrontation with the creature that had been invading his dreams. Somewhere in the midst of it all, he has to find his true destiny.