Aylett is the Mozart of science fiction: he descends from somewhere bearing complex, beautiful work that defies convention as strongly as it follows conventional forms and he uses his language--words, in Aylett's case--with deft humor that hides how carefully-placed each piece is.
And some will look at it and declare there are "too many notes." Let them.
Only an Alligator is the first of the Accomplice novels: four stories set in the strange, mythical city Accomplice, cut off from the rest of the world by unknown catastrophes and devolving itself into some sort of clockwork parody of degeneration.
Our hero is Barney Juno, a kind and gentle soul who's sole goal is to care for the "winged and stepping creatures of the earth," which puts him completely at odds with everyone else in town. His friends include the town's most downtrodden, eccentric, and publicly artistic miscreants, but what else could he get with 500 eels in his front yard?
Okay... now we head off the main road a little and visit Aylett-land....
The action for the book--actually, the action for the whole series--is set up by Barney stepping into a creepchannel, a sort of nerve running through the earth and used by demons and some humans to travel. While he's there he rescues an alligator.
Yes, an alligator trapped in a demonic nerve through the earth. You're following just fine.
The alligator was left there by the demon Sweeney, who lives below Accomplice, in Hell. Sweeney had been basting the alligator for dinner that night and vows revenge on Juno.
And thus we have the setup: Sweeney and his demons become frustrated by Juno's simple innocence and how hard he is to destroy or subvert, even in a venal and corrupt town like Accomplice. Each failure makes Sweeney even more determined, leading through four books of epic confrontation. And no one in Accomplice finds any of this unusual.
Aylett's genius is misdirection. He puts a pyrotechnic display in one direction, such as his wordplay, and distracts you from the brilliance in the other, such as the morality play and the character development. When I first read the book, I read some sentences out loud to my girlfriend so she could appreciate the humor. After about 10 or 15--stopping for her laughter each time--she realized that these were consecutive sentences in the book. I had read her three paragraphs. Her response was, "It's like each sentence is its own unique thing." Similarly, scenes of surreal humor flew past me before I realized that I understood the plotting so far and recognized the characters and their motivations. Aylett got me laughing and gaping while a strongly-plotted book with well-thought-out characters and wry, if broad, social commentary slipped past my guard and dove into my eyes.