Monday, 22 October 2012

Really bad books No. 37: Alex Scarrow

As you may know, I have a bit of a thing for decent SF, including post-prosperity/climate change fiction, which is currently flooding (arf!) teen and adult publishing like there's no tomorrow (double arf!). Many of them are quite good because they follow the tradition of John Wyndham or JG Ballard. In Wyndham's work, the actual disaster is a bit of a McGuffin designed to demonstrate that decent chaps and chapesses can thrive once the trivialities of urban consumerist society are discarded as so much flummery. In Ballard's vision, the self-deceptions of technological capitalism are the only things which keep us whistling in the dark. Expose us to our true natures by making us confront what we've done to the world and each other and lethargy or existential dread takes over.

Either way, good bracing stuff.

However, reading this stuff inevitably leads to the occasional duff novel. One such is Alex Scarrow's Last Light, a post-oil disaster novel which ticks all the boxes on my personal Rubbish Book Characteristics list. Which is a shame as its basic point - that oil underpins the entire world infrastructure - is fair enough.

In no particular order, and not exhaustively, here are my personal objections to this terrible novel. The only worse ones I've read recently are How Green Was My Valley (which at least manages to be insidious rather than obvious) and Death Comes To Pemberley, PD James' Austenian necrophilia. She deserves to be horsewhipped for it.

1. Unhealthy need to enunciate gun specifications.
2. Massively obvious plot telegraphed very early.
3. Hero moves from intellectual feminised whiner to Buff Macho Killer by discovering his True Priorities (his wife and family).
4. Hero's wife is allowed to be active to some extent but must Rediscover Her Love For Her Husband to achieve redemption.
5. Heroic daughter must shoot dying man in the head to achieve Agency.
6. 9/11 (or rather 11/9) employed as insultingly lazy conspiracy theorist mill-grist.
7. All dialogue must include 'said' + adverb ('she said sadly').
8. Conspiratorial elites are at the heart of our social problems.
9. Massive chunks of expository dialogue of the most clunking sort ('So, you're a Muslim weirdo: what's it all about, eh?' 'Well, white infidel…')
10. Characters introduced and discarded for momentary effect - such as Alison and Dan, both murdered off-page so that Leona feels a bit sad for a line or two.
11. Casual unthinking racism.
12. Not a sentence that betrays the slightest indication that it's been revised to do anything more than get you to the next sentence without losing track of the 'plot'.
13. Total inability to leave imaginative space for the reader to do some of the creative work.
14. Apparent belief that Manchester City (or any other) matches are on live TV on weekdays at lunchtime.

I could go on. But there's a sequel I just have to read, so I'll reserve some ire for that too. Unless it turns out to be a staggering work of heartbreaking genius. But Last Light makes me reach for my Shakespeare: 'it is a tale told by an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing'.


Ed said...

'Zone One' by Colson Whitehead is rather good Vole. Checkitout!

The Plashing Vole said...

Read it when it came out - enjoyed it immensely.