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Better Than Chocolate, by Bruce Golden
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Zumaya Publications
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 2/3/2009
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Better Than Chocolate, by Bruce Golden

Book Review by Ann Downing

Have you read this book?

On the surface, Bruce Golden's new novel Better Than Chocolate may seem banal, some of its plot points even trite. But give it a few chapters and you'll see it's the understated satirical tone of the book which makes it unique. You soon realize there's more going on here than just a search for a cop-killer, and the discovery of a conspiracy that threatens all humanity. There's a subtle undertone of gonzo social commentary inherent throughout.

The book's vibrant characters are both larger-than-life and true to it. Golden hatches his dramatis personae from hackneyed stereotypes, then breathes new life into them by keeping their actions and reactions realistic and plausible. It's a delicate balance, but one which he pulls off again and again.

The characters who populate this mid-21st Century setting include a celebrity talk show host known as "America's Favorite Virgin," a virile, hard-nosed San Francisco police inspector, and his new crime-fighting partner, a Marilyn Monroe celebudroid. Yes, you read that right. The American film icon comes to life in Better Than Chocolate as one of several celebrity androids created for commercial purposes, to look and act like their originals. Comic juxtaposition ensues when Marilyn's original programming seeps into her police work. Of course, as with most artificial intelligences, Marilyn begins to evolve beyond what her creators intended. And though, along the way, she proves an annoyance to Inspector Noah Dane, their relationship evolves as well.

Celebudroids aren't the only manifestations of the future. Golden's vision includes a society where identities are confirmed by an array of biometric scans, cameras are everywhere, and law enforcement routinely uses facial recognition technology. Of course, where such technology exists, there will be always be illegal means of countering it. Such is the case here, with such blackmarket commodities as falsefaces and idisk blinds. Virtual reality is the pop culture addiction of the moment, and while some government agencies use "flying cars," only the wealthy can afford to fuel automobiles in this future. Mass transit is the rule of the day, though bicycles have made a comeback, along with other human-powered modes of transportation. Even the gangs ride around on bikes.

In his previous novel, Mortals All, Golden wove a civil rights theme throughout a remarkably poignant futuristic love story. In Better Than Chocolate he's once again crafted characters that, though they live in a future we'll never see, feel familiar to us all the same. He makes it impossible not to feel their pain.

I rate this book a 9 out 10 because it's such a fun read—not a description you hear a lot, but it keeps you turning pages, and wanting more. The spirit and tenor of the writing reminds me quite a bit of David Brin's Kiln People. But unlike that wonderful novel, Better Than Chocolate is not so much plot-driven as it is people-driven. And, if you don't already know what's better than chocolate, you'll find out as Golden's quirky cast of characters leads you through this science fiction who-dunnit (or, more accurately, who's gonna do it) towards a climax of comically sexy proportions.
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Comments on Better Than Chocolate, by Bruce Golden
Posted by Miz Liz on 6/16/2009
This book is chockful of good stuff. Though the plot is serious (the fate of humankind), it made me laugh out loud several times. A really unique bit of writing.
Posted by Randy Winn on 4/21/2009
I just happened across this book in my local library, and was pleasantly surprised. This was a great read. The understated satire was at just the right level, and the characters were fanastic. I'd read anything by this author.