Review: Up Jim River
You know what I’m getting tired of? Book covers that have absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book. I get the whole “first impression” bit. I understand the very essential concept of getting a potential buyer to just pick up the book. I also know that publishing books is a business. But honestly? The amount of false advertising present on book covers today just ticks me off. Then again, I have no idea what kind of cover might have persuaded me to pick this book up in the first place had it had only dealt with the concepts presented therein, and not been entirely based on a metaphor of the story instead. So, a quandary for you: False-advertising? Or no sales? Option number three, if you ask me.
UP JIM RIVER by Michael Flynn (Amazon) starts out quite interesting, even though each character has about four names and breaks into complicated dialectal speech seemingly at random. Méarana is the daughter of a semi-famous Hound named Bridget Ban that has gone missing. Naturally, she’s out to find her mom, but she needs some help because the Hounds (kind of the big-bad FBI of the science-fictional world Flynn has developed) have given up the search and, well, she just needs some help. Thus, she enlists the aid of Donovan, an old drunk that used to work with her mother on occasion, but whom has recently been imbued with multiple personalities via the work of some very nasty people. These personalities of his each have a name/title, have unique control over several faculties of Donovan’s body, and all speak through different fonts on the page. Bold, brackets, script, italics, a couple others. There are seven of them present in total but for the most part they all sound just about the same, so it’s tough to distinguish between any particular one of them. I found it was best to just take their thoughts at face value and move on. Too confusing, otherwise. At length, our two adventurers set of across the galaxy to find their missing Hound/mother and make Méarana feel whole again.
Flynn’s writing is just grand here. Poetic, fluid, descriptive. Awesome, in a word–it was one of the reasons why I decided to give this book a try over the others I saw on the shelf–but I found that the more I read of it, the less I liked it. I realized that I just wasn’t sinking into the story. In fact, it felt more like an acid trip than anything else (err… from what I’ve been told…). Floating along, experiencing the world and seeing the characters interact. It was only when I’d pull out and come back from la-la land that I could realize exactly what was going on in the story and consequently put two and two together. As such, the world is fairly fleshed-out, the characters well-done, but the actual progression of the storyline difficult (at best) to follow.
Essentially, the story reads like a mystery novel minus the process of finding the clues, set in a story bent on world-building the heck out of the galaxy. The first 80% of the book deals with the two protagonists (which each have their bundle of flip-flopping point-of-view time) as they move from one world to the next, finding the next clue (notice there’s no mention of the “finding process” here) as to where Bridget Ban might have gone, or what she was doing before she disappeared. There’s a nice, large info-dump about each planet and its history and its inhabitants (and sometimes, strangely enough, their eating habits) before finally moving into what’s actually happening to the people we’re trying to care about. They find the next clue, though about half the time one character or the other just comes back with it after wandering around on a hunch, and then move on. Kind of anti-climactic that way.
There was one point in the book that I actually started understanding what this was all, possibly, supposed to be about. This happened within about 20 pages, in a single section inside the last 10% of the book. We finally get something that starts to make sense, that starts to look exciting. An interesting question is raised–which is what any story, science-fictional or not, should do–but then it’s all left behind, and the climax of the anti-climactic story is left to wallow in its anti-climactic stagnancy. At least it was consistent.
There were a number of things that I didn’t understand going into this book. The first was the fact that this is apparently a sequel to THE JANUARY DANCER (Amazon), which wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the book, but the ship January Dancer is mentioned a few times in the book, and I’m no dummy. The second was that it was possible to find writing that was so well put-together that it could actually inhibit the story experience. First time for everything, I guess. The third and final thing that I didn’t understand was just how far out on the made-up word scale a science fiction book could go. (And here I will give you a not-so-humble reminder of xkcd’s opinion on this matter.) Of course the author is sure to point out all his work to future-mangle actual words from present-day languages, so these aren’t really made up words. Whatever.
UP JIM RIVER may have delicious prose, but that won't make up for the problem of not really knowing what this book is supposed to be about.
So what do I think about this one?
It’s science fiction. Nuff said.
- Recommended Age: 14+, though why you’d want to bore any of them with this is beyond me
- Language: Maybe five words worth
- Violence: A few people die and there are some implicit threats spoken
- Sex: Little, mediocre, fertility analogies to a planet
Series links: Spiral Arm
- # 1: The January Dancer —Amazon
- # 2: Up Jim River —This Review —Amazon
- # 3: In the Lion’s Mouth —EBR Review —Amazon
- # 4: On the Razor's Edge —Amazon