Bedlam & Belfrey, Intergalactic Attorneys at Law: The First Dozen
Self-published, 348 pages
Review: Thom Day
Presented together here are the collected serial adventures of Bedlam and Belfrey, Glen Cadigan’s legal antiheroes, who work their blend of legal magic and devious manipulation to get their clients into money and out of trouble, while always ensuring a favourable outcome for themselves. Along the way they meet talking dogs, mobsters, disembodied authors, bakers, and pop stars; they sue God and try to outwit the Devil; they get rich, go broke, go to jail, and get elected. Bedlam and Belfrey are the best at what they do – namely twisting justice and public opinion to ensure a positive outcome for Bedlam and Belfrey. The stories are told by those who meet them, alternating between clients and courtroom opponents, which allows Cadigan to develop the characters while providing weird and wonderful scenarios in which they can wreak their legal havoc.
The stories are entertaining and equally balanced between defence and prosecution, however the science fiction, law, and comedy fails to tally as nicely: the legal aspect isn’t convincing and the science fiction, with a few notable exceptions, is used more as background than to enhance the plot. And while Bedlam and Belfry are supposedly Intergalactic Attorneys at Law, a disappointing amount of the action takes place on a “future” Earth where the legal system remains largely unchanged from the present.
I found the writing distracting and overwrought at times, and each story narrated in the same voice: God, dog, client, and opposition all sound the same; it wasn’t until two pages into the second story that I realised that the narrator was different to the first. It took a concerted effort to keep reading at first, but as I went on the annoyance faded to mild irritation and I quite liked three or four of the later stories.
Unfortunately this positivity was ruined by author’s afterword, where Cadigan complains that no one recognises his genius, and that his work was only self-published because the stories were considered too funny by traditional sci-fi publications and too sci-fi by more literary publications. It’s hard to take these protests seriously when the popular appeal of science fiction and sci-fi influenced books is on the rise.
The main tension in this collection is ultimately between the author and his lawyers; Cadigan seems to have a deep-seated dislike of lawyers and everything they represent. Bedlam and Belfry are alternatingly portrayed as legal geniuses and conniving perverters of justice, and even those who benefit from their actions end up worse off in some way. By the end Cadigan seems to have reached some kind of begrudging balance between moral repugnance and admiration for the Intergalactic Attorneys at Law, but it’s this love/hate relationship, not the humour, that stays with the reader.