One thing I often don’t like about sci-fi/fantasy….or whatever you might this novel to be….is when the stakes are entirely fabricated/zone dependent. I mean by this that when there’s no real connection to something that is “real” and what’s happening in the novel, it’s some times hard to care too much about what’s going on the page.
A version of this, where the stakes are invented, but turn incredibly satisfying is Dexter Palmer’s novel Version Control. A bad version of this might be like the movie Pacific Rim, where I ultimately want to say, ok, so good thing giant monsters aren’t real. If you can’t convince me to believe in and trust the world I am reading about, I won’t care.
In this novel, though, there’s a decided lack of whimsy, even though it threatens whimsy constantly. And that’s what keeps me sane throughout. I was worried a few times…for example, the introduction of crab, that it was just going to turn into something unspeakably boring and annoying. But the helm was well-manned even through the seemingly most random parts. Also, I don’t always enjoy narrators who speak like the internet writes….so I was worried throughout a few parts of this as well.
But the results are much better than I thought it was going to be. There’s something really terrifying about being trapped in something that has a direction but no clear sense of purpose or false sense of control. The eternity aspects of this novel (where the implication is that this could repeat infinitely) are pretty terrifying in general.
And of course, this novel has a clearly satisfying ending. A good punch at the end.
Also, it feels like the pieces fit, and this is a novel where they might not have. You can have a novel made of loosely connected vignettes where the total is an impression, but you can’t have a novel that is supposed to seem cleverly pieced together but feels random and forced. This one worked out just fine.
And mostly I just thank god it wasn’t all a Jacob’s Ladder scenario.