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The Shamshine Blind
by Paz Pardo

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted December 31, 2023

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Paz Pardo is an Argentine-American writer, born in the US (not sure where) but currently living in Argentina. She received her MFA at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in Austin, and has also studied at Stanford. The Shamshine Blind is her first novel. One of the blurbs on the cover is from Kim Stanley Robinson, who compared it to Philip K. Dick. I can see that somewhat, perhaps from his A Scanner Darkly, but other influences I suspect came from the noir-detective novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, with a dash of the sarcastic wit of Robert Sheckley or C. M. Kornbluth, all the way to the dystopias of British writers like Ballard and Aldiss. More than once I thought of the latter's Barefoot in the Head, wherein a war had been waged with bombs laced with hallucinogenic agents. I am not saying the author drew from any of those sources, just what came to mind while reading.

This is an alternate world scenario, one which diverged from our own in 1982, when Argentina defeated the UK in the Falklands War, or from the Argentinian perspective, the War for Islas Malvinas. That might be hard to believe, considering the military strength of the UK and her various allies. But Argentina had a few allies too, including China, but the deciding factor was the development of chemical weapons that altered emotions. Deep Blue induced memory loss, while Gray Slate produced debilitating ennui. Argentina now has military bases in the US and other countries, and various agencies have been established to oversee use of "psychopigments." Set in 2009, with most of the action in Daly City, California, south of San Francisco, which had been devastated by various pigment attacks from terrorist forces such as the Knights of Liberty. The first person narrator is Kay Curtida, an officer with the Psychopigment Enforcement Agency. There are regular cops too, referred to as the neurotypicals, whereas the PEA dealt with infractions to the pigment laws. Certain pigments had been adapted for psychiatric use, but others were abused as other drugs had been for ages. There were also bootleg pigments, one of which is in the book's title. Yellow Sunshine is an approved pigment, Curtida herself using it almost daily. It helped calm the nerves and bring on a sense of peace. Shamshine, however, supposedly just a bootlegged version of Sunshine, had negative properties. The "Blind" part of the title is possibly a detective term, sort of like a red herring. Something that takes your attention away from what is really going on.

Curtida's position in Daly City is low level enforcement, but that changes with a death at the Icarus Corporation building. Icarus is an approved manufacturer of pigments, but some of their officers may be involved in the production of Shamshine. Curtida is not sure if the death was suicide or murder, but the investigation is difficult since all witnesses had been the victim of a pigment that wiped their memories, so Deep Blue is suspected. As in a lot of other noir mysteries, the clues lead in unsuspected directions, possibly encompassing a major conspiracy from the top down. The fact that Curtida is dismissed from both the Shamshine case and the Icarus death does not stop her from further investigation, even when she is herself victim of a Gray Slate attack. Other elements of the plot involve a spiritual cult that may be involved with Shamshine, and/or connected to the Knights of Liberty. Almost everywhere Curtida turns she is rebuffed or reprimanded, which leads her to seek out help from none other than the Argentine military.

I won't go any further into the plot. It's weird, comical in parts, deadly serious in others. Curtida is a dedicated agent, but also one who starts to question her direction in life. She has to stop thinking about pigments all the time, that they influence everything in her life. For after all, according to her good friend Doug Nambi, "not all emotions come from the outside. Some are from inside." Recommended.


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Paz Pardo

February 14, 2023

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