What We’re Reading: Clade and Lagoon
TDW: This review is a double-whammy. The reason for this is that I believe in what I call the ‘serendipity of reading’. That is, that everything we read is linked in a multitude of ways. This is of course the case when you look at the history of literature and how earlier works inform the authors of later generations. Everything is touching on everything else, and there is a massive web of words. But the serendipity is not just in the text, but the context in which we read them.
These connections do help in criticism, too. Aside from the fact that I read these two books back-to-back, they share one major similarity: multiple perspectives. I mean that in the literal sense of the reader being shown events through the eyes of a variety of characters. One of these books does it well, the other fumbles it.
I went in reading Lagoon with hope. It’s by Nigerian author Nnedi Okorafor and it’s about alien first contact in the city of Lagos. A great premise, you must admit. Unfortunately the perspective changes far too often and there is no consistency. There isn’t head-jumping to make it confusing, but so many vantage points overwhelms the reader. We never get to focus and are constantly thrown into the peripherary. The other result is that the book is overdrawn, too long for events and ultimately boring.
There are some great elements, such as the mutation of the sealife and a road that eats people, but it is a bloated book. The author has tried to include every social concern of Nigeria, from gay rights to government corruption, and again it is too much. Throw in magic powers, random folklore and a lack of payoff and it’s a rather unsatisfying book. I will admit that perhaps these are elements of Nigerian story-telling that I am unaware of, but to me it’s a case of the means foiling the ends.
On the other hand I was apprehensive about Clade, a new novel by Australian author James Bradley. Literary climate change SF on the Aussie hype-train? Something smells fishy. However, it is a decent novella and doesn’t linger too long, despite taking place over many years. Each chapter is from a different perspective, as husband and wife divorce, children move overseas and grandchildren grow up. It is definitely more literary than SF, and given that climate change is such a contemporary concern it doesn’t feel futuristic per se. Certainly this KYD review goes too far in saying that, ‘… Clade is the first great novel of climate change.’ I mean, seriously? Kim Stanley-Robinson says hello. Bradley is a Writer, and so the characterisation is realistic, the change of pace effective and conflict just right. If anything the first chapter is a let down and you have to trudge through it to get to the real story. It’s enjoyable, but not revelatory.
I’d go so far as to say that what we are looking to buy online essay like Clade. (Though maybe with a bit more punch and panache. And lasers.) Both books have their mission and I think for the most part they get there.
Interestingly both authors also teach Creative Writing. At times it feels as if they ignore the type of advice often given to students. Some rules are better left intact.
Interesting you call Clade ‘a novella’ (unless that’s a typo) – at 256 pages it’s pretty regular novel length. Or do you mean in comparison to your traditional sci-fi doorstop size? I’m with you though on the KYD overstatement. It’s not even Australia’s first good go at the topic – Sea & The Summer is (admittedly) not exactly great, but ‘Things we didn’t see coming’ is bloody marvelous (and yes it’s a bunch of linked short stories but really so is Clade).
I might have to check out The Sea and The Summer, but yes Things is as you say, marvelous. Similar to Clade, but more post-apocalyptic and dreamlike I found.
Regarding the novella comment, I feel like if you take into consideration the typsetting, and the speed at which I finished it, the word length would have to be quite low. That is to say it was a good length!
Yes, a very sensible length.