Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012: In the Mouth of the Whale (McAuley, Paul)

Detail without Prose: In the Yawn of the Whale (2/5)

I know of Paul McAuley through reputation alone; that reputation of bogging down a novel with somnolent details urging the reader to cerebrally drift-off due to a unnecessary complexity spanning the pages from alpha to omega. I knew this but I still picked up In the Mouth of the Whale because I wanted to give Paul one chance with a brand new novel... and nowhere did it say anything about being a sequel! (Certainly a marketing ploy--who wants to buy a sequel when they haven't read the first two books? I'm one of the suckers.)

While there is certainly some background information missing from having not read the first two books, I could pretty much follow the ongoings after the first 25%, which had a very steep learning curve. I could still sense the escalating tension rising from the ingrained mystery (who are the True, the Quick, and the Ghosts?). Perhaps some of the revelations fell flat for me because I wasn't aware of the prior characters or plots, but I did superficially express surprise when Paul was metaphorically hooking what he had baited. If the first two books are of the same quality as In the Mouth of the Whale, then I'm less than eager to procure these novels. I do, however, have Fairyland lining my shelves, which I will reluctantly pursue after finishing this tome.

The book's chapters are divided three-fold, between the three ever-merging plot lines: the story of the Child living in Brazil is being told through the eyes of a seemingly caretaker race, where the Child is learning something which the caretaker seems fit to oversee; the True being named Isak cares for the Library along with his Quick assistant the Horse, where the duo are on a quest to retrieve a sponsor's son and the data which follows him around the system; Ori is a lowly female Quick who pilots drones when her life is turned on its head when she makes contact with the sprites of the Mind deep below the metallic hydrogen surface of the planet Chtuga.

None of the three plot lines is too enticing. Where the story of the Child is shrouded in the mystery of the direction of the Child's change of thought, at the same time the nebulousness of the character is off-putting; she's just the Child and that's all there is to say. Where the story of Isak and the Horse is captivating in the sense that they are trying to rebuild a library of data, the whole "demon" fighting, "hell" entering, "algorithm" spinning, and outer-body-ness is a tad difficult to consume. Where the story of Ori, the least engaging of the three plots, deals with his newly-found yet burdensome gift of having the Mind's sprite sitting behind her vision, the aim of harnessing the power of those with the sprite seems without direction.

I found all three plot lines to hold that quality of progress without direction. The only thing that kept my attention from the 25% - 80% mark was the unraveling of the mystery of the True-Quick-Ghost origin and how their ascendancy motivates their activities towards the vague goals Paul has behind his hidden agenda.

I remarked that the novel is full of unfathomable scenarios, such as "the Whale" in atmospheric suspension in the cloud of the planet Chtuga. Why, what, how... unanswered. The continually quest to hunt for pieces of the Library is great idea. Oh, but why? and for what?... unanswered. There are some (big is too big of a word) moderately large ideas in this novel and they are written about in a painfully loquacious manner but to what end? I was left very well informed but I was also left shrugging without a clue as to the purpose of it all. (Reminds me some top-down managerial staff meetings)

So, word of warning: read The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun before you tackle In the Mouth of the Whale... and be forewarned that Paul's prose is sub-par while his attention to inane detail is vastly superior. I'm the kind of reviewer who likes to add quotes from the novel, quotes which inspire my mind or perfectly summarize the scene. Paul did neither of those: not very sweet, not very short.

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