The Human Abstract
(Telos Publishing, £7.99, 133 pages, published April 2004.)
Rehan Mihajlovic is a dealer in rare books
the far-future planet of Copernica. He comes across a previously unknown
edition of an early history of the planet's human colony, including
paragraphs which have been excised from the standard account. His search
for the solution to this mystery brings murder and mayhem, and eventually
leads him to the secret behind the colony's foundation.
The story has a curiously steampunkish feel to it, with the protagonists
leading what seems to be a nineteenth-century colonial lifestyle (including
a strange dependence on printed books as carriers of information forward
through the centuries), but with added nanotechnology, personality storage,
and intrusive policing. The settings are well described and convincing.
The climax is a Haggard-like journey into the wilderness to track down
the heart of the mystery.
However, in general I was not very impressed. Neither the means nor
the motivation of the bad guys ever become particularly clear or convincing--the
means, in that Mihajlovic and his love interest seem able to escape
brushes with near-certain death with increasing degrees of implausibility,
and the motivation, in that it doesn't really seem such a big deal if
the Awful Secret were to be revealed now, a thousand years (we are told)
after the events took place. Mihajlovic's female companion seems to
be in the story just for sex and screaming.
There are ponderous philosophical chapeau paragraphs introducing each
chapter, and some truly dreadful turns of phrase--at the start our hero
and his friends are "ignorant of the story that was beginning to unravel
about us like the cold, entwined coils of a mysterious serpent", and
later on we are told that his wounds "looked like huge purple welts",
probably because they actually were huge purple welts. Telos,
the publishers, must bear some responsibility for this as well; this
is not the first time I have finished one of their books with the feeling
that the editor's responsibilities had been discharged too lightly.