Review: Tunnel Out of Death

Posted: November 22, 2013 by in Books We Don't Like (2/5 single_star) Meta: Jamil Nasir, Science Fiction

Do you hate movie trailers that essentially tell the whole story of the movie? You get three minutes of whiz-bang cool that makes you want to shell out the cash to go watch it, only to end up finding out that what you saw in the trailer was, in fact, the entire movie condensed down to three minutes? Grumble. This book was exactly like that. Read the back cover of this one, read the book, and then tell me I’m wrong. No wait, I’ve already done all that. Check it out.

TUNNEL OUT OF DEATH (Amazon) is a standalone book written by Jamil Nasir, an author who is probably more well-known for his short fiction than his novels. This is, however, his fifth novel, and at this point I’m going to assume that most of what he’s written is science fiction. The covers of his previous books and his work in this one tend to make me believe that. The setup I got for the novel, provided for by the blurb on the back of the book, sounded fairly decent. It’s something along the lines of:

Heath Ransom is a former police-psychic turned machine-enhanced “endovoyant” private investigator that is asked to find the soul of a woman, Beverly, that has been cut loose from reality. As he’s searching he comes across what appears to be a rip in reality, a black hole of sorts, that leads him to find the woman, but drops him into the middle of a war between secret, ruthless, government agencies and a non-human entitiy known as “Amphibian”. Their battlefield is a multi-level reality that Heath learns to navigate, finding along the way that everyone around him may not be humans at all but instead super-realistic androids. The result threatens not only Heath’s sense of reality, but his sanity as well.

Conspiracies, multi-level reality, playing with the line of one’s sanity. Not bad. It was enough to at least get me interested. I didn’t get very far though before I had some serious issues with the way things were going.

The first was a serious lack of understanding or introduction. Strike one. The first chapter of TUNNEL is a conversation between Ransom and a doctor who is trying to tell Ransom something, but Ransom isn’t interested and leaves the meeting prematurely. The second chapter is the conversation between Ransom and a married couple, relatives of the woman whose soul has gone missing, in which they bribe him to do the job (despite the fact that he has no experience in searching for people’s souls) with loads of cash. Why?  Because, the story has to start somewhere for crying out loud. Then, in chapter 3, we’re immediately thrust into the alternate reality, ethereal universe that Ransom can access via some funky Fringe-like setup: wires, sensory deprivation, drugs. No rules are ever established, so we don’t know what to expect, and have to just take it on faith that the author is leading us somewhere that we want to go. Tripping through the author’s disjointed imagination.

It quickly became apparent that there would be little to no characterization. Strike number two. We get a couple paragraphs, maybe, about the main character. Nothing of substance though. Thus, Ransom becomes this cardboard character with no obvious motivations, other than finding this lost woman’s soul, as he wanders through scene after scene of what is described as the woman’s “boundary dream,” which from what I understood was kind of like a conglomeration of the stuff that flashes before your eyes just before you die. The secondary characters are much the same. Movement and decision with no justification or even clear reasoning as to why they’re doing what they’re doing.

And then we get a Noah’s ark event (aka: complete wipe of the story). After finding Beverly, the Ransom story line skips several years in which Ransom is living the life of another person: a pool boy, actually. This was the first time I really realized that the author had no idea what he was doing in relation to the story, and my expectations of the book took a serious slide. Fast-forward a bit more, Ransom has learned to navigate himself between his real life and this alternate pool-boy life, and we see Noah wave to us again as he floats by a second time. Another bundle of years pass and by manipulating the future, Ransom becomes filthy rich. It happens about as quickly as I’ve just explained it there, too. Ohmigosh. Strike three. It is at this point though that Ransom starts to see that perhaps the reality he’s living isn’t the one he thinks it is.

It stands to reason that there is a reason why TUNNEL OUT OF DEATH was first written and then published. I can't for the life of me figure out why.

Ah ha! Now can we find out what’s going on?  Is the government manipulating him? Is this non-human Amphibian (whom only really makes an appearance once, despite sending his goons in to mess things up a couple times) in charge? Who cares, says the author. Instead, the story is forgotten and what we get is some dubious pontification on the reality and transition of death, random references to God and/or eternity, and we’re done.

But he’s finally figuring out that reality isn’t what he thinks, I say. I finally got to the end of what was in the book teaser.  Now what? What about the conspiracy? What about the mutant goons of Amphibian? What about Beverly being connected to it all? Eh. Peanuts. Why worry about all that boring story stuff when you can instead take an about face and listen to the author blather on about what death might be like? That’s so much more important! Strike… err. Is that four or five? I’ve lost count. Anyhow.

It stands to reason that there IS a reason why this book was published. I can’t for the life of me figure out what that was though. It seems to me that anything that drops its whole premise this blatantly should be sent back to the drawing board. So much wasted time. Even if you love any and all science fiction, I highly doubt you’d even want to give this one the light of day.

  • Recommended Age: 16+
  • Language: Infrequent but spans the range of possibility
  • Violence: Some of the violence is fairly graphic, but most of it involves androids/machines
  • Sex: Several scenes with low to moderate detail

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