Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Sea of Dreams

Novella by William Barton

A jumbled mess, with a couple good ideas tossed in at the end; 1 out of 5.

At 38 pages, I found exactly one page of this novella good, with maybe another ten worth reading to get to that one. And that leaves a good deal of fluff. You could safely amputate the first 25 pages without losing much of anything (the mark of great literature!) The Sea of Dreams should have been a short story, and even then I can't see myself giving it more than maybe a 2.5 out of 5 with extreme editing.

There are many instances of entirely irrelevant sex in this story. And for all the time wasted talking about sex, it is neither graphic nor erotic, so you can't justify it as erotic fiction either, (if you consider that a justification). The central scientific dilemma, while admittedly not the point (although I'm not sure what the point was) is complete rubbish. The problem the characters have to solve would have resolved the same with a comatose protagonist being wheeled around between scenes, although I guess his boring chatter ended up making things worse for some parallel universes we don't care about.

A brief plot summary (spoiler-light, although I anti-recommend wasting your time on this) :
7 pages of almost entirely irrelevant introduction. 12 more of dealing with a civilization that exists purely as an homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs, with some Red Orm references sprinkled in. Neither of these have any bearing on anything. I quit reading 6 times during this part. It took me a week.

Finally, we get to the good bit: 9 pages of moving between some other irrelevant locations, with about a page worth of disjointed, barely comprehensible useful background, delivered with lots of made-up terms that never matter. Then our pointless heroes get sent to the past for 4 pages of standard-issue paradox avoidance, before being sent to the distant future for 5 pages of wandering around aimlessly with a little bit of pseudo-physics thrown in.

And finally the quest to return home is completed with a very literal bit of deus ex machina and we get exactly 1 page of fairly thought provoking denouement, although it ends with an out-of-nowhere speculation about which option to choose of what seems to me a false dichotomy about an issue I'd gotten the impression the protagonist should have moved past long ago. Why the hell semi-ruin the universe to get back a lost love after spending the whole novella falling for your cloned sex slave. Not that the reader can actually care about our central lizardman anyway. 38 pages and all the character development of 5. The saving grace to the ending was that it wasn't either terrible thing I expected: it was neither all a dream nor The Number of the Beast for dummies. Small victories.

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