|The Hollow City, by Dan Wells
||[Jul. 7th, 2012|11:03 am]
Review copy provided by Tor.
I was interested to see how this went, because I read the trilogy Wells debuted with, and the premise seemed significantly different from I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequels. Unfortunately, the voice really didn't strike me as very different at all, and that was a problem right from the start: a teenager living with his loving family vs. a young man living in a mental hospital, coming from an unpleasant home life, felt like they should have pretty different voices.
Second problem: pacing. (I promise, I do talk about things other than pacing. Sometimes.) This is a book where the main character is schizophrenic. Right up front you know this: he's schizophrenic. And the first half is approximately all him dealing with his schizophrenia. Some of it later turns out to also have to deal with the speculative premise. But it's sorting out what's in his head and what's physically real and schedules of a mental hospital and medications and like that. And also there's a speculative premise, and the speculative premise really does not get going until halfway through the book. And by the time each of the revelations comes around on what is and is not in his head, you have had way more than enough information to guess if you are reading at all carefully, but as things stand, revelations: not very revelatory, structured as though they were supposed to be since that's the main part of what's going on.
Third problem: if you're going to wait that long in the book to deal with the speculative conceit of the book, I feel like it's going to need to be awesome. And this? This did not feel to me like it was all that well-developed or all that awesome. It was pretty skimmed over, and the ending relating to it was very skimmed over: how did that even work? Why was he confident that it would? Wasn't that a lot of...well. Anyway.
Also C.J. Cherryh seems to be the only person who gets a pass from me on a particular trope regarding humanity and love, because everyone else who tries it forgets to do something powerful with it. They just invoke it and don't do anything else cool. I read A Wrinkle in Time as a kid, so once you have kids bouncing balls, I am seeing the love thing coming, even if you didn't think of it that way. Think of it that way. Then do something else the end.
Smooth fast read? Yep. Just not nearly as developed as I think it could or should have been. The other up side: I was really concerned about how Michael (the protag) was going to handle his relationship with schizophrenia and medication, whether it was all going to turn out to be a magical or alien problem, whether medication was going to turn out to be The Enemy keeping him from seeing what was Really Real. Thank heavens, this was not the case. The actual handling of schizophrenia was much, much better than that. And in that sense the similarity of Michael's voice to John's in the IANASK books is a strength: the person who is struggling with hallucinations, who is hearing voices and believing in delusional things is not presented as a foreign creature, as an alien other. He was just this guy with problems, like you or me or the mentally ill people we care about, who are also just people with problems. And the meds had side effects that genuinely sucked, but he wanted to stay on them, because they helped him sort out what was freakily horribly real and what was his brain misfiring. I really felt that was well-handled. It felt to me like the part that looks difficult if you're describing it to an outside observer--writing a book with a sympathetic first-person narrator who is seriously mentally ill--is the part that Wells nailed. It's the part people assume Any Fule can do--writing an interesting, well-paced speculative fiction novel--that he didn't do quite so well at.