Saturday, 1 June 2013

Review: The Divinity Paradox

The Divinity Paradox
The Divinity Paradox by Vincent Vale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author gifted me this book because he'd seen my other reviews, knew I liked space opera, and wanted to know what I thought of it. I read the sample before accepting the gift, because it didn't sound totally my thing. I discovered from the sample that it was in a "high" style reminiscent of the recently-late Jack Vance.

Now, I don't like the Vancian style at all. It distances me from the characters through the formality of their speech, and it strikes me as a little ridiculous and, frankly, pretentious. I can live with it, though, if it's competently done (the author really does have that large a vocabulary and writes the style consistently) and if everything else about the book is working for me. From the sample, I thought that would be the case, so I downloaded the whole book.

Before I go further, here's an example of the style I'm talking about:

Maurice released a foreboding moan. “Nothing will be the same after you pass through the dimensional gateway, this I guarantee.”
Theron looked with reverence down upon the ring of eighteen dimensional augmenters. “Humankind will no doubt see preponderant change.”
“You have no idea,” uttered Maurice.

Now, as I say, if the author is up to the task of pulling it off I'm willing to go along with this style, though I don't like it much. Unfortunately, the book contained at least 30 homonym errors (that I spotted), including such basic ones as "wastes/waists". I'll be giving him the list, so he can fix them if he wants to. It also contained a smaller number of what I call "clanging colloquialisms", which are another hazard of attempting a "high" style: words like "kids" and "chug" from informal American vocabulary that are dropped into the middle of the high-flown prose.

Instead of my usual approach, for this review I'm going to start with 100 points and deduct for things that annoyed me. So, for attempting something that (in my view) shouldn't be attempted, minus 10 points. For failing, minus another 10 points.

Let's talk about characters now, and specifically about female characters. There were about half a dozen named female characters in the book; everyone else was male. The roles those characters played were as follows:

- Women In Refrigerators (look it up if you don't know what that is)
- Bait for traps
- Objects of lust
- Perfect objects of idealized romantic love
- Subjects of torture
- Inspirations
- Prostitute
- Damsel in distress
- Shrewish hag
- Wise old crone
- Evil sorceress

There's a significant omission from that list: protagonist, fully realized character with own motivations and agency. To be entirely fair, the main female character does hold the post of Prime Minister of Earth, though she doesn't seem to actually do anything; and the secondary male characters are not fully realized either. One is the muscle and the hero's occasional encourager (and is markedly lacking in empathy towards the female character's sufferings at the end, by the way); the other is a comic relief and cautionary example. The latter seems to be having a moment of growth at one point, but it later turns out he wasn't.

Only the main character has any kind of arc, and in a book this length I would usually look for some change and development (and some roundedness) in the secondary characters too. Furthermore, for much of the book the main character himself is either a tourist (watching events rather than impacting them) or a chess piece, only becoming a true protagonist occasionally, and mainly towards the end.

Minus another 10 points for the gender role issues, and 5 for not a great job of characterization overall.

The plot is fine. Nothing much annoyed me about the plot. It's complex enough for the length of the book, it unfolds on a reasonable schedule, there were mysteries for about the right length of time to keep me interested.

The setting is space opera, with no attempt at hard SF. That's fine by me. If the author sets out to write a book in which the technology serves the plot and provides a sense of wonder, and doesn't try to explain how it works, I don't have a problem with it. That is what this book does. There's rapid acceleration to light speed, there are events visible across millions of light years as they happen (the author hangs a lampshade on this: nobody understands how it's being done), there are neural implants that apparently are not tracked in any way, there are brain nodes that provide limited telepathy/universal translators, and it's all powered by handwavium. It's not a book about the technology, so that's OK, as far as I'm concerned.

Now, a few words about the theme. The plot involves beings of vast cosmic power masquerading as and/or attempting to become gods, hence the title. Nothing wrong with that in itself, as a premise, but I found the way it was handled a little shallow, as far as theology and philosophy was concerned. It ended up with a bit of vaguely Buddhist-like New Agery, and along the way we had a passing swipe at Christianity (Jesus was one of the the evil, manipulative pseudo-divinity's earthly manifestations) and a few, mercifully short and non-preachy, conversations about the meaning of life, good and evil, free will, the nature of the soul and similar topics. Because they were short and non-preachy, though by the same token not especially deep, the author mostly gets away with them as far as I was concerned. I am a Christian, of a particularly flexible and laid-back kind, myself, but I felt only mild annoyance at the anti-Christian reference, largely because it was made in passing and wasn't beaten into the ground (or, indeed, followed up). Other people would, I'm sure, be more offended. To me, it was like a few yaps from a small dog, more amusing than annoying, whereas other books with a similar theme are more like a dog that barks all night.

I will take off 5 points, though, mainly because when something is as important as this to the plot I like to see some depth to it. If it's a historical book, I like to see plenty of history, and if it's a hard-SF book I like to see plenty of science - or evidence, at least, that there has been effort expended on getting the history or science right and doing justice to them. I didn't feel that there was much in-depth philosophy or theology on display in The Divinity Paradox.

By my count that takes us down to 60 points, which translates to three stars. That rating reflects, clearly, my personal taste to a large degree. If you like Vancian prose; don't mind or don't notice homonym errors and clanging colloquialisms in it; aren't especially worried about how female characters are portrayed; aren't looking for great depth of characterization or a lot of setting development; and either sympathize with or at least don't object to a vaguely New Age theme, everything else about this book is perfectly fine and you may well enjoy it. I still enjoyed it somewhat, despite those issues.

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