You know, I swore I wouldn’t do this, I really did. Australian SF is such a small world. There are so few of us regularly pushing the plough. I don’t want to piss off anyone, don’t want to create enemies or hatreds. I decided early in the piece: if I was going to read books for food I would steer clear of negative reviews, particularly of works by people who could conceivably stalk me through the corridors of a Con one day, holding a copy of my review in one hand and a very large steak knife in the other…
Sigh. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Sometimes you find yourself with a rapidly approaching deadline, only one book one the shelf, and a heart that sinks further the more you read…
Traci Harding’s Book Of Dreams is not so much a curate’s egg of a book as a curate’s scrambled egg. The central idea is a good one: a young man must embark on a journey of self-discovery through his interior landscape in order to discover his heritage, and use that self-knowledge to save the land to which he is inextricably linked. It’s just that the writing is so clumsy, the characters so stereotypical and one-dimensional, and the events recorded so dependant upon coincidence after coincidence that it’s not very long at all before the suspension of disbelief is shattered and all that is left is a growing sense of frustration at seeing such a good idea wasted.
To top it off, once you do get to the denouement it is almost quite literally ‘Then he woke up and it was all a dream’, followed by such a rushed and patchy epilogue that it is impossible to believe it anything other than a hasty attempt to cover up all the obvious mistakes dotted through the book, as if it was too late in the publishing process to insist on any more edits, and a big fat band-aid was the only solution. It’s hard to believe a book conceived in such a way was not given the benefit of a 6-month pause, a strict editor, and a damn good final edit before making it into final print.
However, there was one loophole, I thought. The book details the adventures of a mainly young cast of characters, and much of its language and mindset is that of a person younger than my crusty 32 years. Maybe the faults lie not with the book. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong point of view. There’s a possibility that this book is aimed at a more youthful audience, at kids, to be not-very-precise. So I found one, and forced him to read the thing (actually, he chose to read it one night when we were having some reading time, but it sounds more fun if I tell it this way) What did he think? Well, step forward, guest reviewer Blake Triffitt:
“It was quite interesting, but most of it was pretty boring. A small weird creature is guarding this parcel, and when the hero Kyle goes to pick up the parcel the creature runs away. Up until then it was interesting. It just became boring after that. The little creature runs away and doesn’t tell him anything, and I thought finding out would be interesting, but it wasn’t. The thing that made me pick up the Book of Dreams was the title, because it sounded like it could be exciting. The characters were boring except Kyle. He was better than the others because he saw the tiny small creatures.”
So what do you do with a book that’s too badly written for adults and simply too boring to sustain the interests of the younger audience? Hope for better next time? There are too many books in the world, too many writers I haven’t yet read. Onwards and upwards, fair reader, and maybe next month I’ll be able to report once more from the sunny side of the street.
From the Old Shelf
So this month I drew down Slippage, the 1998 short story collection from Harlan Ellison. It’s a solid collection, with the usual highly-personalized and interesting introduction by Ellison himself, but these days there seems to be something missing from Ellison’s fiction. It might seem hard to kick out at a guy who’s almost 70 and who has provided the genre with an awful lot of highlights, but there’s nothing in here that reaches the glorious heights of “Shatterday” or “The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World” or Ellison’s best collections of the late 60’s and 70’s. Nevertheless, this is still a damn good collection of tales and had they been produced by someone without Ellison’s pedigree it would be considered an accurate summation of their talent.