I’ve probably been overindulging a bit with the SF over the last few weeks, culminating in that cranky and unfairly dismissive post on The Island of Dr. Moreau. Choosing to read this next simply because it too had ‘Island’ in the title probably wasn’t the smartest move. For just as overindulgence in the physical vices will eventually exact its price, so too for the literary.
It’s just, ah… I dunno. I know some people only ever read a single genre: high fantasy or chick lit or police procedurals or whatever. But you spend so much time immersed in places with such similar underpinnings and conventions and it all becomes fairly repetitive. You get multiple helpings of the good stuff, of course, but the generic weaknesses also become more and more obvious. This is Box-Set Syndrome writ large.
I just want a book with a compelling central character, who has conversations for reasons other than expounding on the author’s political and philosophical views. I want a plot that actually makes sense and follows an imperative other than exploring whatever conceptual world the writer is trying to construct. I want to feel engaged with a protagonist who feels like a real person and I really, really don’t want to feel compelled to use the word ‘worldbuilding’ yet again when I write about it. I am heartily fucking sick of ‘worldbuilding.’
In that last respect at least, this was a phenomenally poor choice. It’s a fucking gazetteer of a fucking fictional fucking planet, for fuck’s sake. The second chapter contains a two-page description of thermohaline circulation in action. As you know, I’d normally be completely down with that shit, but this time I was somehow less than enthused. Fortunately after a few dozen pages there’s some genuine horror, a murder and a miscarriage of justice, and things start to pick up a bit.
The narrative, as far as it exists, is fragmented. Extraordinarily so. It’s an effort to piece together and, given my general mood, one I found myself resenting on more than the odd occasion. But somehow it keeps pulling you along with its slightly prim manner, daring you to figure out exactly what, if anything, is really going on. Buggered if I’m going to lose a battle of wits with the supercilious little prick notionally collating this haphazard affair.
And then about three-quarters of the way through there’s a reveal and you get given, if not the answer, then the key to it. Or at least a key, to an answer. And what’s more, you realize you were actually given it quite a while ago and you’ve been carrying it around in your pocket whilst looking everywhere else in vain.
Cheeky, as I said, motherfucker.
Fortunately this is a book that’ll stand up very well to a few re-readings, which I’ll definitely attempt when I’m in a more suitable mood for it. Maybe not from page one, though.