Monday, 26 August 2019

Review: Buzz Kill: A Novel

Buzz Kill: A Novel Buzz Kill: A Novel by David Sosnowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a difficult one to rate, and I finally went with my gut; the three-star rating partly reflects the fact that it was such a downer, which is not to my taste. (The title turned out to be accurate in a couple of ways that took me unpleasantly by surprise, though it's not like I wasn't warned at all; I just kept hoping it would turn out better than it was threatening to.)

I've read a few books now in the genre you might call "contemporary science fiction," as spawned by William Gibson of All Tomorrow's Parties, and they tend to have three flaws.

First, they're world-weary and cynical. This book is definitely those things, though it is at least witty about it.

Second, they tend to feature alienated losers wandering through a series of events without much in the way of goals, and therefore without much plot. For a long time - until about 45% - and with the "losers" part in brackets, I thought this book checked that box off as well, but the pair of protagonists do finally get a goal, or a pair of aligned goals. It is very much choked with exposition and high-flown prose, though, with long infodumps (either via a character or directly from the narrator) about artificial intelligence and various other topics. The explanations are plot-relevant, but there are an awful lot of them. I gained the impression that the author/narrator was a bit in love with the sound of his own voice.

The third flaw that many contemporary SF books share is the flaw that (according to Sturgeon) 90% of everything shares: they're crap, in the sense that the author has a poor grasp on the basic tools of writing like punctuation, sentence structure, and vocabulary, not to mention plot, characterisation and setting. This book has, I think, had extensive copy editing to remove most (though, in the review copy I got from Netgalley, not quite all) signs of those problems, and reads as better written than average. That would normally have kept it at four stars, but sustained cynicism and a tragic ending were not what I was hoping for, and when you spend almost the first half of the book waffling around with backstory and the characters feeling and thinking and experiencing a lot but doing very little, I will ding you for it.

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