I thoroughly enjoyed this one, but the majority of my sci-fi book club had some serious issues and eye-rolls with it, and our fearless leader didn’t even finish it. So I feel like I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but I really liked it!
It’s post-apocalyptic, after the Gone Away War, when the world has unleashed reality-eating bombs at each other. Cities, towns, countrysides – all just disappear. It’s a war no one can win, and the survivors are left with the fallout: a non-radioactive “Stuff” that warps reality. Giant slugs, murderous cows, people who were once people but…aren’t, anymore.
However, you don’t really get all that until 200 pages in. Nick Harkaway is the King of Tangents. First, you have to meander through the narrator’s entire life story, including childhood, college, recruitment into a weird arm of the military, and training in the anti-ninja Way of the Voiceless Dragon. Plus falling in love, of course. And within all that backstory, there are little tributaries of nonsense: a couple pages about a particular kind of shrew, history lessons about philosophy and political dissent, bomb-making science, circuses…it goes on and on. That’s what made my book club nuts, that you could skip half the book and not miss anything. So depending on your tolerance for meandering, mostly-unnecessary details, you may or may not like this. I thought the writing was fun and vibrant, and most of the backstory was interesting.
It is a lot to wade through, and the ending annoyed my book club. Again, I liked it, although there’s an abrupt shoe-horned extra love story that felt a little too Wayne’s World mega-happy-ending. I liked the musings on the nature of humanity (if you get changed or created by the Stuff, are you still human?), and a whole lot of ramblings about corporations and lack of ethics and people’s responsibility to humanity. Lots of big ideas and small details, but apparently not for everybody!
Sample quote that made me giggle: “My body,” Ronnie Cheung says, “is a lethal weapon. Yours is a sack in which you keep your vital organs.”
Sample extraneous tangent (lots and lots of info about the Lubitsch family donkeys sprinkled in among the backstory): “One of the donkeys develops a case of halitosis beyond what can be tolerated even in a donkey. The others ignore him, giving rise to great mournful honks of loneliness and betrayal until the vet arrives and performs some abscess-related miracle and all is well again.”