Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Harbringer by Jack Skillingstead

There was a particular defining point for me with this novel, occuring about sixty pages into it. The male protagonist (Ellis) had run off with the most attractive girl of the high school for vague destiny-related reasons, and they were combining an enegetic romance with low-income material environments. Ellis' coworker begins to hit on him quite blatantly, pressing her interest and eventually leading to a full seduction that ended the above relationship with the earlier girl. In reading to this point, the question I had was whether the story was going to give a reason for the abrupt urge to seduction that she had, whether it would bother to establish in her a real character and set of motivations. Or if she would remain a baldfaced, vampish plot device that further reified the book's sexism and centering of Ellis around everything. It went with the latter, and grew out this tendency to a more and more irritating extent.

The genre elements of this book concern a lot of psychic stuff mixed with destiny, self-haling, immortality, genetics and the type of ill-formed science fiction rationalizations that wind up being more awkward and implausible than out and out fantasy would be. Fundamentally, though, the story uses these elements to drive the story without showing much interest in rendering them credible, and the book becomes a series of encounters that show Ellis' basic specialness and the impact everyone has to focus time on seducing him, caring for him, manipulating him and so forth.

This is a miserable book, reliant on cliches, thorough predictability and an inability to form anything substantive. One of the worst books I've yet read this year.

Similar to and better than: Hylozoic by Rudy Rucker. Not hugely similar, but they both have the lack of coherence, over-reliance on meaningless technobabble and fundamentally unlikable characters featured front and center. Hylozoic has rather more of a plot, but it works out in the book that's not a good thing.

Similar to and worse than: Here there's a dilemma. On the one hand, I could indicate a book that I consider fairly similar and quite good, to point to how the basic formula of the story can work effectively. On the other hand doing that sets a more minor critique in some ways; well Skillingstead may be no Richard Morgan but many people aren't, and it doesn't in itself count as a huge indictment. So instead I'll make the point that Harbringer is worse than Jim Butcher's Turn Coat, a book that I consider itself very weak in its layout of meaningless action and flattering for the fan mentality. And yet it's still better than Harbringer.

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