Thursday, 2 March 2017

Review: Kismet

Kismet Kismet by Watts Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was excellent.

I would recommend it, first of all, to aspiring writers who want to know how to escalate stakes and keep the plot moving, because this is how you do it. Read Jack M. Bickham's Scene and Structure as your textbook, and then read this, because it's Bickham's advice put into action. (I don't know whether the author has read Bickham directly, but if not, the advice has filtered through somehow.)

Secondly, I'd recommend it to anyone - and there are a good many people like this - who thinks that you can't have a fast-moving, fun, tense, exciting, high-stakes space adventure that is, at the same time, about queer furries and the politics of oppression. Because you absolutely can, and this is it.

And finally, I'd recommend it to people who enjoy fast-moving, fun, tense, exciting, high-stakes space adventures.

A couple more words about the adventure/politics thing. I'll approach it by talking about the McGuffin.

A McGuffin (variously spelled) is a term Alfred Hitchcock used for the thing that everyone wants, which usually functions mostly as a plot driver. In the classic McGuffin scenario, it doesn't matter what it is. The briefcase in Pulp Fiction contains something - we never find out what. The point is that the characters want it and are prepared to do drastic things in order to get it.

Here, the McGuffin is a data store which contains information that actually is important to the plot, indeed essential to the plot, both because of why everyone wants it and because having it will eventually enable a character's life to be saved (someone important to the protagonist). It's inextricably entwined with the plot and the theme; it couldn't be substituted with a Maltese falcon or a briefcase of unknown contents. This is next-level McGuffining.

Exactly the same thing is true of the political aspects of this novel. Without them - without the history of prejudice and oppression, without the main character's mother's status as a martyr, without all the questions that are raised and struggled with (not necessarily answered), there is no story. It's not "I shall now address you on the subject of minority rights under the thin cloak of a story." It's "here is a story which arises organically out of the realities of what being a despised minority is like." And, as already intimated, it's an excellent story, full of adventure and conflict and escapes and chases and wonderful and terrible events.

In short: great character, excellent setting, competent prose, near-flawless copy editing, and a masterful plot.

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