Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Super-complex Space Epic

The Promise of the Child, Tom Toner
Tom, Tom, Tom *shaking head.* You've out-smarted me, Mister.  There is no doubt you have an exceptional imagination and a crazy arsenal of power-words at your disposal.  I am also certain there are readers out there looking for writers like you -- authors producing work they can lose themselves in and unpack for years.  I'm not one of those.  The power-words assault my brain and demand more of me than I can give a book right now.  This book is for people who are less lazy / more mentally available than me.  I read for the E's; escapism, entertainment, enrichment and/or enlightenment.  I'm prepared to work a little, but ideally it should be a pleasure to read after a day that will have had a fair dose of work in it already.  I feel like I am used to riding retro mopeds of various models, occasionally a hipster push-bike, and then along comes this Penny Farthing of a book; a thing that'll take you places, but there is serious work involved.  I had to stretch considerably to make reading this happen and I failed to grasp and hold onto even half of what Toner has imagined.  Penny-Farthing-of-books-lovers everywhere, I'm pleased to announce: you can unpack the crap out of this one!  You can pedal in old-timey style into a very elaborate world that is so far in the future it feels like the past.  Further notes:
  • The writing is very thick with descriptors.  Sentences are often long.  A high level of attention is required.
  • I really like that the title is explained so quickly.  Then I was disappointed that it was so hard for me to connect the subsequent multiple narratives to the aforementioned promised child.  I was jarred rather than delighted by the complex interwoven threads of the story.
  • There is so. much. world- and character-building and it is thick and fast for always.  The prose is so dense with place and people names I couldn't cope without notes.  If this news makes you drum your fingers together with glee, I am so happy for you.  Me?  Reading a book that feels like homework?  Mama don't play that. 
  • But hand in hand with this ambitious imaginative scope, Toner has included some intriguing concepts I wish I had opportunity to further explore; chameleon-like humanoids, flesh trees?  These had my interest but no single thing truly sustained focus long enough for me to really get stuck into it.  
  • Similarly, because there are so many characters (so many), I struggled to develop a deeper understanding of any of them.  I felt some promise of caring about a brutal beast-villain and an (in-some-ways) underdog suitor, but interest once-pricked was then left unattended by the onslaught of more more more.
  • There is so much colour.
  • There is an early moment of brutality that shocked me.  I've thought about it quite a bit since.  If you're not a fan of violence, beware, there's some here.
  • As previously mentioned, this SF is so far in the future that some settings feel pastoral (although there are indications some of advanced technology).  As a result of the throw-back and style, I found it to read further down the Fantasy spectrum than I expected.
  • I know everyone's calling it a Space Opera, but I would brand it Space Epic, as there was less melodrama and chivalry and more grand-scale storytelling.
Tom Toner surely has a niche within the SF community shuddering in anticipation of what he'll do next; fans of Kim Stanley Robinson and Tolkien (because Toner's work is kind of like the creative-baby they would have made, had the pair collaborated) should be thrilled.  If you love rich, intricate sci fi and a complex character milieu, then tuck the napkin in your collar already, your course is being served.  In short: this one's not my favourite fare, but I'm delighted to announce it could very much be yours.  Bon appétit.  I'll be the one who no longer requires the side of aspirin. 

Review copy received from Hachette.
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