Finches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I am thoroughly disappointed.
There are a few parts of the novel that I can latch onto and say, "Yes, this snippet seems fairly interesting," but they are too few and far between, suffering from either a lack of imagination or a serious review of what good authors have already accomplished over the last two decades when dealing with the familiar topic of Mars colonization.
Even that might have been forgivable if the common thread tying each snippet had been strong enough to make me want to keep reading. It could have been anything; perhaps a strong or interesting protagonist, maybe a triggering and unusual idea or possibly a striking image, or failing that, a few better poems beyond those that were painstakingly reproduced in the novel. (I strongly suspect is Mr. Aldiss's own, but I haven't made any attempt to confirm this supposition.)
Unfortunately, I came to a very, very late conclusion that yes, indeed, this novel's point was that we need to get our brightest off the damn planet and start again elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was told to me explicitly in the appendix, and I didn't have the pleasure to come to this conclusion on my own during the main reading. Instead, I was subjected to a sub-par Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear, but only including the population of Mars, a sub-par Mars only slightly as interesting as Greg Bear's Moving Mars and far, far behind Kim Stanley Robinson. There are other examples I could have made, but make up your own mind: How interesting is a colony of six towers representing different parts of Earth, fully dependent on supplies coming from Earth, and watching them be forced to flounder as all the Earth falls apart from it's own inadequacies? Does it sound like a pared-down version of everything else you might have read? It does to me.
As for characters, the most interesting, and I am loathe to admit that they are anything like interesting, is a snot-nosed punk who got his mother pregnant, and the mother was prematurely praised for having produced the first viable child born on Mars. I thought to myself, "Is this going to be the thread that keeps this disjointed and rambling narrative going?" The answer is, fortunately or unfortunately, "No."
The people are varied and variously semi-likeable or not at all likeable, and few of them have much time on the stage, and almost none of them have anything very important to contribute to the narrative.
If I had come into this hoping just to read a book of pessimistic slice-of-life vignettes that watched humanity's eventual implosion, even that could have been accomplished with a great more aplomb. I wouldn't, therefore, have wanted or expected
Warning. Spoiler ahead:
[a miraculous time-traveling visit from the colony's distant descendants offering miraculous tech and seeds that would turn Mars into something life-supporting and therefore ensuring their own eventual survival, and I don't care how many times we get the idea from the story's astronomers that the universe is more wild and varied and connected strangely. I know I would have wanted a LOT more foreplay from that direction before I got slipped THAT.]
I don't generally give out reviews for books that I haven't liked, because I generally do a lot of research before I pick up a book. This case was a bit different for one reason. I was given the opportunity to read it through Netgalley, and the other novel I had recently reviewed for Mr. Aldiss kicked serious ass and I want to praise it to the moon. Literally. On a spiderweb.
This novel simply felt like there was no love driving it, or that it was produced like a bunch of scraps thrown together in hopes that the reader would see something brilliant in it that doesn't really exist. And perhaps there might have been, assuming that strong thread I mentioned had kept a hot and burning fire running through it, and a decent editor to quash that freaking ending and demand a rewrite.
According to the author, this is his last novel. He has been writing for a long time, and many people have praised him. I've praised him with my limited knowledge of his works, and I was perfectly willing to give this novel the benefit of the doubt because he earned a great deal of leeway with Hothouse.
This novel hasn't squandered all my goodwill, either. I'm most definitely going to read some of his other earlier works and be sure I have a truly decent sample to judge the author by. After all, I am one of those people who absolutely adored the movie A.I., and it was only recently that I finally grokked the fact that Mr. Aldiss wrote the short story on which it was based. I can go by the fact that two out of three is still a winner, and this novel is probably an outlier.
That being said, I've got to be honest: I did not like Finches of Mars, but I'm also not assuming this is a truly characteristic sample of his work. At least, not yet. If you're new to him and want to read his stuff, just please, please don't read this one. There's simply too little to recommend it.
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