Friday, December 17, 2010

The Explosionist

The Explosionist (formerly known as Dynamite No. 1) is the story of a 15-year-old girl growing up in an alternate version of 1930s Edinburgh. There, the legacy of Napoleon's victory a century earlier at Waterloo is a standoff between a totalitarian Federation of European States and a group of independent northern countries called the New Hanseatic League. This world is preoccupied with technology (everything from electric cookers to high explosives) but also with spiritualism, a movement our world largely abandoned in the early 20th Century; Sigmund Freud is a radio talk-show crank, cars run on hydrogen and the most prominent scientists experiment with new ways of contacting the dead.

I thought this book was rather ordinary, and definitely not worth all the excitement I had over reading it, and finding it with Beryl at the bookshop for 2$. Lets just say I understand why it was only 2$.

First of all, this was extremely hard to understand. And not in a mysterious, interesting way. In the sense that the author never gave explanations or descriptions of the main, important events. Dialogues were often downright cut out and resumed into a paragraph. It was always unclear to me what was happening.

The timeframe was also extremely unclear. Up until the 3rd chapter, I thought it happened today (when I finally discovered it was in the past, it was rather shocking, actually, and I thought it was in the 1950s). And then, I was absolutely convinced it was a normal world, with no spins on history, and I only had a hint that it was an alternate history when a whole chapter, the 5th, was completely devoted to History. Never assume your readers know everything you know. Never assume they know History as well as you do, because they don't. They haven't spent hours researching the subject. No, I didn't have the slightest idea that Napoleon had lost at Waterloo in our world, and won in theirs. These are things that need to be explained early on in the book, when writing science-fiction.

Sci-fi lesson 101 : Introduce your reader to the world you've created within the first page, ideally, because the reader always assumes everything is exactly like in his world unless proved wrong.

Some details appear at random, and that can be quite annoying. Like Sophie's carsickness that suddenly starts to manifest itself in the end, while throughout the whole book she rides around in cabs and trams and never feels the slightest bit queasy.

Finally, the technology gets way too strange. I could've accepted the fact that mediums and spirits could communicate easily and were quite common, if it had been on its own. I could've accepted the whole turning-teenage-girls-into-emotionless-zombies-thanks-to-technology on its own. But combined together, they make a strange mix. Plus, neither element is the centre of the story. By the way, the actual plot isn't really introduced or explained until the last chapters!

Despite all this, I thought it was a rather remarkable idea, and the whole concept was quite amazing, frankly. I never saw such a unique alternate history, neither one that had such a source. It was really quite a compelling idea. It was simply quite poorly executed.

I had no fun reading it, and it was actually a laborious read. I constantly had to stop reading to simply think at what the author meant, and even the greatest idea can't overcome the description problems. In the end, it kind of felt like a childish Spy-Kids kind of plot and book, and greatly disappointed me. Definitely could have been better.

- Aithen

The Explosionist by Jenny Davidson
Rating : 6/10

1 comment:

  1. That's too sad because this book sounds like it had a lot of potential to be fantastic. Thanks for the honest review!


And now, the words are yours!