Look Out for Space by William F. Nolan (1985)
Why isn't William F. Nolan better known? He has published more than 80 books (including the SF classic Logan's Run, written with George Clayton Johnson) and has had over 750 pieces published in over 250 magazines. His work has been anthologized more than 300 times. I think the answer to my question lies in Nolan's wide range of interests -- his works are spread all over the genre map.
Nolan has written a lot about automobile racing, on of his great loves. He has written biographies of people he admires, including Steve McQueen, Dashiell Hammett, Phil Hill, and Max Brand. He has written science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, suspense, westerns. He has published books of poetry and reference books. He has had a successful career writing for television and the big screen. He has edited a number of anthologies, both fiction and nonfiction. He created Mickey Mouse adventures for Disney. He has written books on the craft of writing. He has compiled bibliographies. He has been honored for both his individual work and for his lifetime achievements. He's been a cartoonist, an actor, and a well-regard public speaker.
Nolan is a good writer who churns out professional work every time. And some of his work rises above the merely professional to a level that sticks in your mind years and decades after you read them.
Nolan's Sam Space stories are a cross-eyed, lop-eared, off-kilter SF tribute to Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Spade has appeared in two novels, five short stories, a movie treatment, and a movie script. Look Out for Space was Nolan's second novel about the character.
Space works from a sleazy office:
"[O]n Mars. In Bubble City, where I grind for bread. what can I say about my office? It's cheap and seedy. Worn nearcarpet. A jammed flowdrawer in the faxfile. And my glowindow doesn't Glo."
Sam's work is usually ordinary:
"I'm not complaining. Sure, I get lonely sometimes. And depressed. But I'm in a lonely depressing business. I don't get many jobs as colorful as the Milo Petrovanny onion case. Most of my time is spent on dull, routine capers such as uncovering a multi-dimensional star dodge tax racket on Ganymede, or doing a tail job on a girdle importer from Outer Capella who runs off with the overweight underaged daughter of a rich but diseased Neptunian pork stuffer."
But Sam's luck is about to change when he is hired by Brother Thaddeus of the Universal cosmic Church Realized. Brother Thaddeus has bought an asteroid in the Horsehead Nebula that has been stole. (The asteroid, not the entire nebula, silly.) Sam has to find and retrieve the asteroid, money no object. So begins a caper that will take Sam across the universe and back several times in an adventure that is as wacky as anything that could be dreamed up by Harry Harrison, Ron Goulart, or Keith Laumer.
Spade stumbles on a slave trading racket that specializes in insects and worms, works closely with a three pinch mouse detective, stumbled across an unexpected body, gets seduced by a beautiful lady and refuses to get seduced by a bevy of distinctly odd extraterrestials, gets framed and sent to a Hellish planet where he is forced to shovel muck with a spoon, has his head placed on backward, and almost loses his nose and ears. And also, some unusual stuff happens before Space wraps up the case in a Hammett/Spillane fashion.
A wild and outrageous romp, but not one for all tastes. I really enjoyed it, though, as I followed Sam Space through space while upholding the classic PI code.