Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Review: Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is only the second piece of fiction by Scalzi that I've read - the first being his, in my view, undeservingly Hugo-winning novel Redshirts. (I thought Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon was by far the better novel. It had a strong plot, excellent characters and fine writing that didn't become self-indulgent, whereas Redshirts was literally a joke, and not, to me, a funny joke, and when you took away the joke there wasn't much left. My review of Redshirts is here:

I don't know that I'll be reading any more Scalzi fiction, because both pieces that I've read underline to me how average he is as a writer.

This novella is a documentary-style backstory to an upcoming novel. Inevitably, it has a lot of "tell" and not much "show". It has its moments of emotional strength, definitely. It has moments of good storytelling. It has quite a bit of smart worldbuilding, even if it's, inevitably, very infodumpy.

But everyone sounds like Scalzi. I read his blog fairly often, and I know his voice. It's this voice. Every single character (and there are many) sounds exactly the same, from the scientists to the journalists to the prisoner in the penitentiary. There's minimal description, which is another Scalzi trait; more excusable in this format than in Redshirts, but it still leaves me not knowing what anyone or anything looks like apart from the robots (and even then, all we get is "like C-3PO").

That may well be intentional, a way of making every character into Everyperson, and there are ways in which that could be a strength, but for me it's also a weakness.

Scalzi is a competent writer. He can convey an idea, a scene, even an emotion or a relationship. But I look for a lot more than that in my favourite writers, and I'm not finding it here.

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