Review: The Fictional Man

Posted: December 3, 2013 by in Books We Like...and Hate (3/5 single_star) Meta: Al Ewing, Science Fiction

THE FICTIONAL MAN (Amazon) by Al Ewing was not an easy book to read. The main character Niles Golan is a jerk. He’s spent his entire life in denial of his own faults (of which there are many) and now that he’s alone and miserable he’s finally beginning to understand why.

In Niles’ world cloning technology exists, but there’s too many legalities involved in making clones from real people. The workaround is “fictionals,” which are people created from tubes that are the live embodiment of fictional people, for example Sherlock Holmes. Imagine what it would be like to see James Bond in real life–or at the least playing himself in a movie.

But if fictionals aren’t real should they be able to have a relationship with real people? Will their wiring allow it? How would real and fictional people interact? What would life be like for a fictional–never growing old, always being stuck being a certain way?

Niles doesn’t consider himself a “realist,” or a person who considers fictionals to be second-class citizens. His best friend is a fictional (Bob Benton, the Black Terror!), he hired a fictional life coach since his last therapist was so ineffective, and at the bar he often visits sits a woman he stares at who’s a fictional (maybe). But as the story progresses it becomes painfully obvious that Niles does have an issue with fictionals, the question is how long will it take him to realize it for himself?

Because Niles is not a very sympathetic protagonist, and he stumbles around his life without any purpose other than his own self-aggrandizement, I had a hard time caring about where the story went. Sure the premise is interesting, and Ewing presents it in a very close-up, visceral way that makes the reader think about prejudice in general and the stereotypes involved. And sure Ewing can tell a story about a very flawed man in a very flawed world where rose-colored glasses were long ago thrown down and ground under foot. But, ultimately this book wasn’t for me, because…well, I happen to like roses and nice people and protagonists I want to root for.

THE FICTIONAL MAN is not an easy book to read. The main character is a jerk and now that he's alone and miserable he's beginning to understand why.

Set in an alternate current-day Los Angeles, THE FICTIONAL MAN revolves around Niles’ movement as he attempts to come up with a movie pitch based on a remake. But Niles finds layer after layer of background inspiration, and he’s compelled to uncover the mystery. Among the mystery are Niles’ memories, self-narration, visits with his ex-wife and friend Bob, and so on–all of it together, it’s all just so weird. This is an uncomfortable book to read, and it doesn’t help that the steady pace is slow and pedantic. The prose is great, very clean and smooth, and it’s obvious Ewing’s skill with words. Doesn’t make the story less weird, though.

So if you like weird stuff with seriously flawed characters and a subtext asking what being “real” really means… then THE FICTIONAL MAN is for you.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: Frequently
  • Violence: Some punches thrown but that's about it
  • Sex: Lots of references and details

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