Dissent by Thomas Olbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I'm very conflicted about this novel.
On the one hand, it does descriptions very well, with clear prose and some extremely evocative visual imagery. This is true all the way through space battles, ground battles with tanks or bows, and even a wonderful fight with a wolf. I never once got bogged down in bad prose. Everything from these through the dialog ran smooth.
The novel is obviously full to the brim with emotion, too.
I can't say that there's an awful lot of different kinds of emotion, but it is full of emotion.
And that's part of where the novel began to lose me.
Let me back up.
The ideas are pretty complex and wide from the very opening exposition, reminding me a bit of Stephen Baxter's Raft in a way, punching hole through the universe to remake another to fit themselves, traversing galaxies, being masters of both space and time and even by the chapter titles, we're intended to get the idea that this whole civilization we're focused on is at best a failed experiment or at worst a joke. With all this power and ability, being able to rewrite time and effect and reverse entropy, I was thrilled that I might get an idea-heavy exploration of what it means to be a god. (It might not work so well on a character level or even just to make the reader care, but I was willing to suspend judgment.)
So what happened? The first half of the book can be broken down into very easy segments of violence, sex, a little more violence, violent sex, and just for good measure, some more violence. It doesn't always have to be fighting, of course. We have lots of anger, mistrust, hate sex, and later we have economic chicanery, corrupt politics, virtual slavery, and excommunication. See a common theme?
So from page 3 or 4, I kept asking myself a single question that practically ruined my enjoyment of this entire novel. It was "Why?"
I mean, the imagery and emotions were always consistently high, there was lots of fighting and sex. What's not to love?
Um. Story. There was no drill-down into the reasons why these godlike beings had or needed war. I should also point out that every person is female, too. Why? IDFK. But yeah, that's right, all that sex is between women. And then there's the much later reason given about resources. And then I'm like, isn't space Big? Aren't there, like, a Lot of stars and planets and resources, like, everywhere? And especially if you have godlike powers, wouldn't problems like keeping your crops healthy be a no-brainer?
And then it dawned on me by chapter 16 that there's ANOTHER group that has these godlike powers. Oooooohhh, okay... but these peeps don't do much except sometimes reverse life and death on planets that don't really have anything to do with the people we haven't really gotten to know yet because they're only fighting and screwing. Um. Okay.
Pointer: Never assume that a kick or a punch or a blaster firing is a substitute for character choices and actual plot. Cool scenes can't make up for a lack of overarching story, either. I felt like I was in one of those soap operas from Fahrenheit 451, where everything was overly dramatic, but there was no substance. Later on we get into farming and politics and a slight bit of bonding between some characters, but long before that point, I was far out of the story. Perhaps a bit of these late "reasons" might have grounded me in the novel early as a poor substitute for the truly interesting characters I wished I had gotten, but it was all way too late.
So in case you're wondering why I give a middle rating instead of a 1 star, it's because I really did think the descriptions were cool and sharp and very readable. The evocation of emotions were strong, too, or at least between lust and anger.
If this had actually been a SF b-movie, perhaps I could have turned off my brain and enjoyed the ride and ignored the lack of substance, like so many stupid movies with great special effects and pathos, but it wasn't. This was a novel.
I apologize to the author. I did like portions of this. Thank you for the review copy, and I'm sorry that I didn't enjoy the tale more.
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