Saturday, January 29, 2011

Indie Book Review: Whom God Would Destroy

Welcome to another book I'm having a hard time reviewing.  Whom God Would Destroy does not fit easily into the traditional good/bad categories.

Let me start here, I really enjoyed reading Whom God Would Destroy.  But, here's a little secret, I read for characters, not action.  And Commander Pants is really good with characters.  This book is filled with interesting, entertaining characters.  People who feel real.  Given how strange some of these characters are, it would be very easy to go off the rails and end up with farcically drawn comic book characters.  But, even at their most insane, Pants' characters still feel real. 

Of course, a book is not just a collection of characters.  There also needs to be a plot.  And this is where the problem is.   Whom God Would Destroy doesn't so much have a plot as a collection of themes.  The Vagaries Of Mental Health: it's in there.  The Nature of God To Man: yep, got that, too.  The Dissatisfaction That Comes From Looking For a Perfect Experience: in spades, my friends.  Reality Is a Collection Of Layers, One More Complex Than the Next, and In The Whole Scheme Of Things Humans Understand Just As Much About The Universe As Bacteria Understand Quantum Physics: of course.  One Man's Crazy Is Another Man's Truth: do I even need to mention it? 

Instead of a plot, let us say there are two main themes.  The Nature of God to Man, and One Man's Crazy is Another Man's Truth.   Interestingly enough both involve aliens.  Theme A is illustrated by the story of Jeremy, an alien playing God for kicks and giggles.  (He gave the Jews the Shema, He did the Christ routine, and this time around He's apparently been reading some Heinlein, 'cause He sounds an awful lot like Valentine Michael Smith, you grok?)  He's messing with humanity again because He enjoys it.  He finds Oliver, an outreach counselor for a local mental health facility, and decides Oliver would be a perfect disciple.  A modern day Paul if you will.  So, in line A we watch as Jeremy manipulates Oliver into Discipleship.  For Theme B we follow Doc, one of Oliver's clients, and learn about how Doc is being used by an alien race in search of the PERFECT experience.  (The Ultimate Orgasm, they term it so mere humans can understand the idea.)  They find said experience in Big Macs (why not?) and Doc is part of the team of humans being used to make sure they get their Big Mac fix.

As themes these two lines have similar focuses and illustrate different aspects of the same concepts (the levels of reality, for example).  But as a story, they just don't have a whole lot to do with each other.  What the book is missing is an overarching plot to tie these themes together.   

Let me be clear here, Whom God Would Destroy is worth reading.  It's five or so hours well spent.  But if you want to examine it critically, there's a huge hole in the middle of it, and that's the plot.  Whom God Would Destroy meanders from one character to the next, spending time in their interesting worlds, getting to know them, but it's lacking in direction.  

Take Greg for example.  He's my favorite character in the book.  His purpose in the book is to illustrate how psychology isn't all that precise and with great ego comes the ability for a great fall.  I really like his story line and think it's quite clever.  But if you cut every scene with him as the main character out, it would have absolutely no bearing on the story.  He's not vital or even tangentially related to either of the main themes.  On his own and developed more fully he'd be a wicked cool novel or novella.  As a part of this story, he's just there.  Greg is a microcosm for what's right and wrong with Whom God Would Destroy.  He's well written, he's fascinating, as a reader you want to get to know him better, and he's totally divorced from any plot the book may have. 

So, how does a reviewer rank a book that was enjoyable, with well drawn characters and no real plot?  Pants knows how to use words.  His writing is clear and, if not poetic, well crafted for the purpose of the book.  His themes and the way he treats them is not precisely new (see Heinlein comment above) but well done.  His characters really are excellent.  But plot is a major issue, and it's a writing 101 level skill.  The whole purpose of a novel is to have something happen that ties all the elements of the story (characters, setting, writing style) together.  And that's just not in this story. 

I'll call Whom God Would Destroy a well recommended 3 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment