Sunday, 24 February 2013

Bedlam - cheese and ham

Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyer (Orbit: 2013) A Stirlingshire computer geek gets transported into a world seemingly made up of every computer game he's ever known. The mystery deepens as timelines get confused, and he finds himself in the middle of a battle, unsure what he's actually fighting for.

(one, two…wait for it…three) SCI-FI!!!
I haven’t done a proper sci-fi book on GBR yet. Not a proper one anyway. So when this came up on my Amazon-recommends list, I thought I’d take the plunge. Some guy stuck in a computer game world, battling his way through moral dilemmas and laser canons? Go on then.
Of course, the “stuck in a computer game” thing should probably have been left alone after Tron. They nailed it there. But what the hey, this sounded like fun, so in I went.
And thus repeated something that has become a worryingly familiar pattern of late. A book that I started out enjoying. And then quickly grew a little tired of. And ended up actually disliking really rather a lot.
The problem here is (and I say this with full awareness of how ridiculous I’m being) the believability of it. I don’t mean the plot. I’m happy to leave logic and skepticism at the door when sci-fi is concerned. I mean believability in the writing – the dialogue, the thought processes of the characters, the relationships that the story turns on.
And it started so well. In the first few chapters, I  liked the wit on display. The geeky references (I especially liked a reference to Buffy season 6 episode 17). But it didn’t take too long before the wit started to curdle and take on a distinctly cheesy tone. The one liners, the out-there analogies, the quirky uses of language – it all ended up just coming off as hammed up. (Cheese AND ham? I really have been eating too many sandwiches recently. But you get my meaning).
It got to the point where I was reading this in a permanent state of cringe. There was just zero about the dialogue that was natural. Zilch. Every sentence dripped with premeditation, and was delivered without even an attempt at subtlety. Which may have been bearable if it was consistently funny. But it wasn’t.
I know, I know, it’s sci-fi, right? It should be allowed a bit of cheese. A bit of too-slick wit. A large helping of contrived come-backers that wouldn’t work in any other genre. I absolutely recognize that, but the problem is it doesn’t matter what the genre, if I’m left dreading what’s coming every time a piece of dialogue is opened, I’m just plain not going to enjoy the book. Brookmyre utterly failed to bed in the sci-fi hallmarks in a way that doesn’t have you begging for the book to end.
Wow, having typed that, it now seems a little harsh. The plot to this was decent. The concept was actually a bit brilliant. Some of the characters were decently well conceived (if not particularly convincingly presented). And…
No! No excuses. I have a pretty high tolerance for sci-fi cheese. I’ve been known to be partial to it in fairly large helpings in the past. Firefly does it well. Buffy does it well. Bedlam does not do it well.
I’ve not wanted to get to the end of a book so much in quite some time.
Next week, something a bit biblical. (Not the Bible).

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