by Gillian Anderson
(and Jeff Rovin)
25 Words or Less:
Mystery carved rocks on the ocean floor? Murder attempts on UN ambassadors? It must be summer beach-read conspiracy thriller season, and I smell a cash-in…
I find it a bit noisy, to tell the truth. Agent Scully’s name gets a nice, personalised font, but I feel a bit bad for the poor guy who did the actual writing, and she dwarfs even the title, which looks like quite the afterthought really. Then there’s that… is it an icon? a pattern? …that thing in the middle, which looks like it doesn’t know if it’s a Celtic tattoo, or a toxic hazard warning, or a piece of decorative design from the height of the Islamic enlightenment period. And the background’s very red. Overall, it’s giving me a headache.
Formatting, Grammar & Spelling:
Professional enough; no errors noted; American English.
This feels like write it fast, get it out there, read it faster, on to the next one fiction to me. “Readable” would be the friendly label. “Unchallenging” a bit more pointed. Very average stuff, with more than the odd hint of the Daniel Brown school of thriller writing to it. Of course he sells like hot-cakes, so I guess it’s all good. Of course, I lie: it’s not all good at all. Example?
The text balances on the edge of the fabled, reviled “head-hopping”, unexpectedly gliding between the points of view of different characters in quick succession when the sample’s one major set piece takes place. In this case it has the feel of a novelised TV action sequence, in which the camera first cuts to these people over here, then those people over there — but in replicating that effect the writer has decided to go in just a little too tight to them.
Also, when that action scene takes place, some poor clarity of description rears its head like a movie buff with cranial gigantism at the cinema. A bit sloppy is my overall impression.
Characterisation & Dialogue:
I’ll detail the main characters in passing when I describe the story, because to be honest it feels a bit unnecessary to go into great detail if the novel itself finds them so interchangeable as windows on its world. However, the first character we meet is called “Dr. Sam Story”, and I confess to snorting as I got to his surname — it just reads like someone forgot to find-replace their early concept notes. I can’t wait until we meet Jennifer Idea and Methuselah D. Novel in chapters two and three…
There’s a lot of semi-descriptive labelling going on, something else Dan Brown earned fame for. Characters are named, then soon after are referred to in lines like “The man stood up” where “he” would do just as well; then you have things like “the fifty-three-year-old geologist was finding it hard to accept what he was seeing” — if only he was a renowned fifty-three-year-old geologist, why, this could be The Da Vinci Code all over again!
As for dialogue, it’s pretty generic. The dialogue tags are quite special though. Before we get to any instance of s/he said, we get a slew of alternatives to the simple and obvious — he intoned, he recorded, he murmured, he mumbled — every other entry on the amateur-author watch-list. The tags settle down a bit after the prologue chapter, but what is actually said within the sample seems to be rather more interested in hammering in extra story world detail than anything so prosaic as establishing distinct voices or characterising anyone.
Was I enticed by the story so far? No. The story opens with a prologue which is pretty much a total non-entity: our Dr. Story mumbles into a recording device his observations of a strangely carved stone pulled from the ocean, marked by heat damage that ancient cultures lacked the technology to produce. “It almost looks like it could be…” he says, more or less, before in/conveniently deciding to go to sleep before revealing a major plot element, in what I consider to be a very clumsy authorial choice. Then some mystery figure walks in, steals the stone and recorder, walks out, and “continues to the Malvina House Hotel”. Oh. Okay then.
After a page-filling insert of a clip-art version of that cover design — the same one from the now stolen stone, of course — we enter Chapter One, and Manhattan, through which walk Ganak Pawar and his teenaged daughter Maanik, who speak in the slightly-too-precise manner of highly educated foreigners, which they are. The narrative text is less precise: “It was an unseasonably warm October morning, better suited for a stroll than a stride…” What?
Anyway, they discuss Ganak’s recent success (sort of) at the United Nations, where he represents India (sort of…): he’s also keen to recommend Kashmir become a UN protectorate so it can decide whether to pick India or Pakistan or independent statehood for itself, so he doesn’t seem to be pushing his nation’s interests very hard. The day after he plays a video of a Kashmiri mother self-immolating to make his point to the UN assembly, mystery gunmen take a pop at Ganak as he’s dropping off his wannabe-political-aide offspring at her school.
His bodyguard catches a bullet but Ganak and his daughter come through unscathed… and that’s about it. There’s no sense of tension in the writing at all, and the fact that the sample is short is about the only thing to be said in its favour.
While I don’t normally pay much attention to who publishes the books I sample, this one went out of its way to inform me that the label responsible was Simon451, an imprint of Simon & Shuster. I have no doubt that we’re looking at a literary reference in that numerical suffix, but I don’t know if name-checking the burning temperature of paper is a good idea when you’re putting out the kind of fiction that will be first in the fireplace when civilisation falls and the lights go out for the final time…
A Vision of Fire falls squarely in the pulp-fit-to-be-pulped sub-genre of thriller fiction, but even that segment has its star turns. This is not one of them, and adding Gillian Anderson’s name to the cover doesn’t change that. Jeff Rovin’s neither, whoever he is.
= Technicalities =
Title: A Vision of Fire (Earthend Saga #1)
Author: Gillian Anderson (and Jeff Rovin)
Publisher: Simon451 (Simon & Shuster)
Price: $12.91 (Oct 2015)
This is, in case you’re wondering, a ridiculous price for a piece of work of this standard. More expensive than the paperback edition, too, which beggars belief.