Bear's worst sci-fi: bleak, repetitive, boring (2/5)
April 30, 2010
Rear cover synopsis:
a time like the present, in a world that may or may not be our own,
three young people–Ginny, Jack, and Daniel–dream of a decadent, doomed
city of the distant future: the Kalpa. But more than dreams link these
three: They are fate-shifters, born with the ability to skip across the
surface of the fifth dimension, inhabiting alternate versions of
themselves. And each guards an object whose origin and purpose are
unknown: gnarled, stony artifacts called sum-runners that persist
unchanged through all versions of time. Hunted by others with similar
powers who seek the sum-runners on behalf of a terrifying, goddess-like
entity known as the Chalk Princess, Ginny, Jack, and Daniel are drawn
into an all but hopeless mission to rescue the future–and complete the
greatest achievement in human history."
The City at the End of Time is NOT written in Bear's grand science fiction tradition as The Forge of God, Blood Music or Moving Mars.
Sadly, Bear has taken it to himself to continue to pursue a more
mainstream market, only this time his intended target is young adults.
This book isn't exactly for the serious science fiction reader unless
you like magic stones, enchanted books, and mysterious cats, which
sounds more like a Fritz Leiber's fun novel Gather, Darkness
than it does a Gear Bear sci-fi novel. It meanders and skips its way
too far into the boring realm of fantasy than it does march up to the
comforting fortress walls of science fiction.
can't wrap my head around what Bear was aiming for, usually never a
problem for a 100-books-per-year reader like me. Bear pours too many
proper nouns for deities or beings or people or places which are given
very little description or purpose (e.g. Chalk Princess, the Librarian,
the Mistress, the Great Door, City Prince, the Bleak Warden). Nearly
every page the reader is confronted by any number of these proper nouns
for which the reader has very little to relate to what their actually
reading and trying to understand... does that sound right? Putting a
name with a developed character (which Bear did a decent job of) is one
way to associate with that character, but why did Bear name the three
young "fate-shifters" after alcohol? There's Jack, Daniel and Ginny;
mere oversight, maybe.
Along with the endless stream of
random proper nouns, there seems to be a theme of repetition which
only goes to annoy me rather than plant any firm idea into my skull.
Throughout the novel the characters "shiver" about ten times (something
which I've noted in other novels as well- too much shivering) and the
bleak descriptions of the Chaos are the same for hundreds of pages-
black or gray, crusty or brittle, hilly or flat. I'm not sure location
in the novel is more bleak- that of Seattle or that of the Chaos.
Either way, this novel isn't one to lift your spirits nor would it make
a good beach read.
A glossary or appendix would have
assisted in understanding the finer points of the novel, but polish it
all you like it won't become a better novel. I may just reread some of
the older Bear novels to renew my faith in him as one of the great
science fiction writers of the 80s and 90s... but no later (besides
Bear's latest novel Hull Zero Three, which was fantastic).