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Adrienne MartiniIf Damon Runyon and Jonathan Lethem had reproduced, the offspring would write a heck of a lot like Steve Aylett. His inventive and constantly surprising use of language puts one in mind of a world like Guys and Dolls, a place with its own linguistic customs where everyone speaks in strange turns of phrase. And Aylett builds worlds -- like Beerlight in Atom -- where fantastic things happen on an hourly basis, where the characters take it all in with aplomb no matter how preposterous it seems to the reader. The titular detective is on the search for Kafka's brain, which has been stolen from storage by some mouthy thugs who later wound Atom's partner, who just happens to be a talking piranha. Clearly, stepping into Aylett's world means believing in his invention -- a place with Updike bombs (which render the subtext in the scene terminally obvious) and Bren Shui (a decorating art in which firearms are strategically placed to focus positive energies) -- otherwise, not one lick of it will be engaging. With all of its wordplay and wacky-noir goings-on, Atom doesn't always make for a traditional narrative but it does make for one in which meaning hovers just outside of your grasp. That, though, is part of the fun of this rollicking SF/detective yarn.