Another Day in Punktown
By Matt Shaw
Author Jeffrey Thomas, a Westborough native, is most likely deeply disturbed, as many artistic geniuses are. What else could explain the harrowing, mind-bending, pulse-pounding fiction that he pumps out on such a regular basis?
Take, for example, his newest novel, Health Agent (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2008). The novel opens on a male prostitute, Bum Junket, in a train station. Bum is infected with a new, strikingly resistant STD called Mustav Six-seventy, and is slowly dying. He pauses for a minute in the train station and contemplates his past, remembers a lover who died of the same disease, and resigns himself to planning out his final days in Paxton (a.k.a. Punktown) on the planet Oasis. Then he meets a man with a high-tech lighter in the bathroom, and things change considerably.
Thomas spends his time traveling between the US and Vietnam, and his affinity for Asian culture definitely shows. His books are laced with futuristic mirror images of Japanese pop culture, from cute little dolls that secrete kids’ drinks to anime-like superpowered police agents. Stark, bleak and foreboding, Punktown often has the dense, heady atmosphere of Akira and the rough-and-tumble dialogue of a Raymond Chandler novel. A more intriguing mash-up you’re unlikely to find.
Perhaps his most successful works are those starring Jeremy Stake, a mutant private eye with shape-shifting abilities beyond his control. One of that series, Deadstock (Solaris, 2007), recently received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award. A mysterious and haunting sci-fi thriller, the book tracks detective Stake as he tries to locate a rare, biologically engineered doll. His client, a super-tycoon named Fukuda, grows and raises life forms for cheap labor and entertainment. The setting is the futuristic earth colony called Punktown, a gigantic city populated by countless races, a breeding ground for crime and violence.
To call this man prolific is an understatement. Thomas, who has been writing professionally for the better part of two decades, has written five Punktown novels, co-wrote one with his brother Scott, published a collection of Punktown-based short stories, and even edited an anthology called Punktown: Third Eye, to which he contributed. His non-Punktown novels include Letters from Hades, Boneland, The Sea of Flesh and Ash (again with brother Scott), and The Dream Dealers, a Nightmare on Elm Street original novel. He has collected his short stories in the anthologies AAAIIIEEE!!!, Honey is Sweeter Than Blood, Terror Incognita, and the self-described Lovecraftian Unholy Dimensions. His short stories have also appeared in anthologies like A Walk on the Darkside, Lost on the Darkside, and The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases.
Far from your ordinary sci-fi thrillers, Thomas’s novels incorporate elements of the horror, mystery, pulp fiction, science fiction, and thriller genres to create a new subgenre that has been dubbed “biopunk” by Punktown fans. If we accept the nomenclature, then Thomas reigns supreme in this category. If, on the other hand, we consider his work in a broader context, to the trained eye Thomas’s work still ranks level with the big boys (and girls) in the thriller world.