Waking Gods by Sylvian Neuvel
Normal by Warren Ellis
I’ve never been a huge science fiction fan, leaning more towards dystopian literature when I’m in the mood for something outside mainstream fiction, but over the years I’ve run across a few that I really love. Anything by Ray Bradbury is a winner in my book, as is the Ender’s Game series. When I got my hands on the first book of Pete Hautman’s new series, I thought maybe I’d be discovering another standout in the genre.
The Obsidian Blade starts out in what seems to be a fairly current time period in a small Midwestern town called Hopewell. Tucker is the son of a local preacher who, while fixing the roof one day, disappears, only to reappear later, with a young girl, obviously not familiar with their time period, in tow. Reverend Feye (interesting name choice, as “fe” means faith in Spanish) returns changed, saying he no longer believes in God. Soon after this odd occurrence, Tucker’s mother starts to behave strangely, exhibiting symptoms that doctors diagnose as Autism, but she’d never struggled with the disease before. Things quickly spiral out of control and soon Tucker’s parents disappear (presumably into the same time-warping disko on their roof that his father entered previously). From here, the book goes all over the place.
Tucker’s uncle, whom he has never met, comes to take care of him, but soon they have both entered a different disko that is atop Uncle Kosh’s barn roof in a town several hours away. They are transported to the top of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (What?!) Anyway, after making their escape, Tucker returns to his home to enter the disko on top of his roof, thinking he will find his parents. And so the rest of the book goes…jumps from disko to disko take Tucker to the top of a pyramid where he is stabbed through the heart with an obsidian blade, to a strange hospital place where he discovers he has lost years of his life, and then it is off to Golgotha to see the crucifixion of a prophet. (Yup, you read that right. He witnesses Christ on the cross.)
It really is just too much.
Science fiction is unique in that it tends to require much more setup than a novel set in modern times. The author has to create the new world(s), a litany of characters with unique traits and what often times turns out to be a rather complicated and twisting plot line. I think it is fairly common for books of this genre to be long because of the intricate foundations that need to be set. It is understandable. The problem I have with The Obsidian Blade is that the entire novel feels like the setup. If I didn’t know that this book was the first in a trilogy, I would have been confused by the lack of cohesion. Even after 200 pages, I felt like nothing had been done other than creating a backstory for the rest of the series. I would much rather have had the book be longer and get into the actual story more. Maybe this should have been two longer books, rather than three short ones? While this book left me with no idea what is going on in Hopewell and who the different groups of players are, I have no desire to read the second to find out. All the extended framework did was kill my interest in the book. Maybe the second and third installments will sort out the issues and seemingly incompatible occurrences from the first book, but I just wasn’t drawn in enough to give them the chance. Because it is Saturday and a beautiful day outside, I’m in a great mood, meaning Pete Hautman’s book The Obsidian Blade generously earns: (Barely.)