I read a book called The Affinity Bridge by George Mann last week. The saying goes that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. It may be true in part, but it’s most of what you have to go on if you pick it up in a bookshop. In this case the cover promised a genre defining steampunk book (steampunk refers to a Victorian age but with more technology advances, usally ones made with brass cogwheels and airships). And, two reviewers noted the quality of the writing. And, it looked the least worst of the bestsellers.
Well, it’s a short read, and suspect it would remain so even if you read slowly, since chances are it would get abandoned after a day. There were points when I thought it might improve – enough to keep me going until over 3/4 the way through when I thought I might as well finish. And, I suspect that there might be enough of a skeleton to make a competent film. However, there were two things that grated right through.
Firstly, the quality of the writing was simply dreadful. Like watching somone attempt the Sistine chapel armed with a paint roller, the memory of a picture they once saw, and not nearly enough skill. Description is slapped on in slabs, and the era is anchored with endless references to earl grey tea and the empire. Hints about where the story is going are not so much whispered so you grow to suspect, as indicated in bright neon that remove any suspense before you knew it was due. The main protagonist makes 007 look like a malingerer, and seems to have wolverine’s power of recuperation (but, for clarity, isn’t supposed to). To be fair, by comparison, some characterisations are a tiny bit better – maybe two and a quarter dimensional, and there are few page chunks that feel much more rounded. But, it only raises hopes to dash them again a few pages later.
The second issue is the quality of the science. That may sound odd for something that is science fiction, but it does need to be good enough that you can suspend disbelief enough to progress. There are plenty of such books where this is a bit tricky, but they pull it off, mostly by using it as a critical plot device that you can forgive, and by having most of it right. However, I find that after the first point of ‘I don’t think so’ they start to get more and more evident. For me, that point was perpetual motion in how mechanical men are powered, and went downhill from there. What frustrated was that the moment was often ruined not for any valid plot advancement, but for a piece of casual description, and even that was done badly.
Everyone is said to have a book inside them. Some people should keep it there.