association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

11- Lightbreaker, by Mark Teppo

A good first novel here. Already Teppo has a good grasp of pacing and development and has created a dark, consistent sub-creation that manages to make its magic feel magical without ever feeling like it’s being made for the convenience of the plot. There’s actually some mostly-believable character development which comes from within the character and his motivations, rather than being externally imposed, which is rare in noir/cyberpunk inflected narratives. That said, there are flaws, which fall into two broad groups. I wrote the list below in an email to a friend (edited to make me look better/smarter):

  1. basically no women in it at all. the semi-love/hate interest gets all of five pages of screen time, which is mostly Markham emoting.
  2. although he’s not entirely cookie cutter, there’s still a lot of generic noir protagonist there.
  3. most of the other characters lack a voice. everyone sounds like Markham in dialog.
  4. sentence-level craft is uneven, weaker in the beginning of the book. it’s first-novelitis to a certain extent, but I almost threw the book across the room when I ran across the groaner ‘metal whale’ purple blob of a simile in the ferry chapter.
  5. we’re subjected to not one, but TWO Obligatory card by card Tarot interpretations that are the bane of so many fantasies involving hermetic magic and the occult. to make matters worse, they seem to take up at least five-seven pages each (at least in my memory). by making your foreshadowing into a cutesy game, you cheapen it. I’d have strongly suggested compressing or cutting both.
  6. really, I am kind of done with cyberpunk’s noirish offspring. that may be a personal thing.
  7. seattle and portland seem lonely. non-named characters who aren’t going to be magicked horribly or aren’t waitresses don’t get a lot of mention past the beginning of the book.

So there are some personal quibbles in there. I’ve never been a big fan of noir stuff, and have always considered it to be something of a baleful influence on post-cyberpunk SF, mostly for reasons involving the character’s intermittent lack of agency and often drastically unrealistic dystopias in which it is usually set. Almost all of the other things that I had issues with were, now that I’ve had a couple of days to think about it, failures with the book’s voice. Here too, as in KoNLG (see last post), we have a number of severe issues flowing from issues with the first person singular. It’s very hard to get right, as I’ve said. Here, the strain is less on the reader as the narrator is endlessly blindsided, as much as it’s a question of tone in a number of places. Scene description is all over the place in terms of level and intent, in ways that would often be fine with some external narrator (omniscient or personal) or a first person narrator more anchored further in history, as opposed to this narrator, where the only thing separating past and present first person singular is the verb endings. Also I would like to make a rule: In a book written in the first person, you get ONE (1) scene transition ushered in by unconsciousness. Per-instance penalties to follow when I think of something dire enough. Points 1, 2, 3, & 7 I would ascribe to these sorts of issues, rather than any failure on the part of the writing (other than I suppose the structural failure of choosing FPS and not quite being able to make it work for the whole book).

I seem to spend a lot of time in these reviews talking about how I still think the book is good and worth reading despite the fact that I’ve just dwelled at length on its flaws. Mostly, this is because I am a horrible, negative person, but partially it is because while I do often like the books, I spend a lot of time thinking about what would make them better, in hopes of being able to do the same with my own writing. I realize that this may not endear me to writers who’re talked about here, but hopefully one day they’ll have the opportunity to return the favor. I promise to weep piteously and upload it to youtube.

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