March 15th, 2009



Stephen Baxter - Moonseed

Hard to start, even with the standard "gripper event" beginning. For the first 30 pages you are introduced to a string of depressed people. One of them is even terminally ill. It's as if Baxter is trying, for no good reason, to bake a sci-fi pastry with hard-boiled characters. Then he slips off the rails a bit when he introduces Jane, a despairingly archetypical "grow to love her" love interest. Absurdly intelligent, conveniently beautiful, and suspiciously available, and over-the-top claw-your-eyes-out vitriolic. You know, the sort of love interest who will slap the hero, call him dirt, and then sullenly begin to appreciate him, then eventually hang off him like a wet sopping blanket at the end of the story. I found the dialogue that constructed the character almost insultingly bad.

The good news is, she makes the transition over to soppy wet blanket pretty quickly, then moves beyond it.

And then, right around page 100, the real disaster starts happening, and the book kicks up into a higher gear. I'm around 167 now, and it has become, as the literary critics mockingly say, "un-put-downable". Baxter may be a bit ham-handed with his introductions - and I admit, introductions are probably extremely difficult to get even halfway right (I'm sure I just have no idea) - but his strength is in concisely describing action while still tightly coupling it with the viewpoint of the character he's got on the scene. You're never blind, but you're never disembodied. And when a character stops to assess, you never feel like he's jamming a pause button on the universe. After reading so much non-fiction where the author can just go out for a cheeseburger in the middle of an explosion (in a literary sense), I find that refreshing.

Anyway, back to the book...

Oh, and...

I found this passage in Moonseed amusing:

Of, course there were some who would relish this.

Perhaps there were survivalists, even here in respectable suburban Scotland, waiting for it all to fall apart—heading for the highlands with their cans of corned beef, ready to aim illicit shotguns at anyone who came begging. Or maybe they just wanted some place more challenging to take their 4WDs than the car park of Sainsbury's. Riding out the cosy catastrophe, in Barbour jackets and Land Rovers.

'Fuck them,' said Jane aloud. In a year such folk would be starving, chasing sheep around the highlands, and in two years they would be dead.