(2018) Rachel Armstrong, NewCon Press, pbk, £12.99, 260pp, ISBN 978-1-910-93578-1
This book is Rachel Armstrong’s first novel. It is highly praised by various writers but I just do not get it. If there is one thing I like it is a good story, and actual story is the thing this lacks.
I will quote the blurb as that sums up the story as well as I could. “Mobius knows she isn’t a novice weaver, but it seems she must re-learn the art of manipulating space-time all over again. Encouraged by her parents, Newton and Shelley, she starts to experiment, and is soon travelling far and wide across the galaxy, encountering a dazzling array of bizarre cultures and races along the way. Yet all is not well, and it soon becomes clear that a dark menace is gathering, one that could threaten the very fabric of time and space and will require all weavers to unite if the universe is to survive.”. That summary really is the whole plot.
The story is thin to the point of being almost non-existent. What it is, though, is an endless stream of vignettes as Mobius visits or discovers world after world after world, along with various returns home to her people. These worlds are different and imaginative, and perhaps worthy of reading in their own right, though they rarely add anything to the story. Indeed, the hint of a story serves little purpose other than to provide a structure on which to hang the vignettes.
The descriptions of these worlds overflow with a tsunami of words and images; a cornucopia of impressive words that, chapter after chapter, would make excellent candidates for Private Eye’s Psueds Corner. The words cascaded over me and left me feeling overwhelmed by the gloriousness of her descriptions and worn out by their unceasingness. But as wave after wave of detailed descriptions swept over me I found I was getting bored; I speed read through each chapter in the hopes of finding some story without getting bogged down in the enthusiasm of the tumbling words.
Sometimes there would be some science thrown in, explaining this or that about cosmology or the inner workings of life forms. At times it oscillated between being extracts of science text books and of fantasy books. Although it was meant to demonstrate the understanding that Mobius has of life and of space and time, I found it distracting and it weirdly affected the pace.
The chapters are short, ranging from just a couple of sentences through to nearly five whole pages. It is all chop and change as the story, what there is of it, is told in tiny snippets. The vignettes are more than plentiful, they are well written, and some might find this good enough reason to enjoy the book.
Myself, I was often tempted to give up on it but I persevered to the end in the hope that a meaningful story would eventually emerge - but it did not. Well, no more than in the brief description above - that really is all the story I could find.
If this really is the new way of science fiction then give me the old stuff any day. I cannot imagine I will be reading her future novels.
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