Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Guardener's Tale, Bruce Boston

Bruce Boston's The Guardener's Tale is up for the Prometheus award for this year, but I'm not particularly impressed with it. The first part recapitulates Ira Levin's This Perfect Day, but a lot more woodenly.

There is a clever section in the middle that feels more like Total Recall, except that the protagonist is struggling to break out of the dream vacation. This portion actually lives up to the blurb's billing; it's reminiscent of the best of Philip K. Dick. The protagonist wants to convince his wife that they should break up, so he wants to ruin their "dream vacation". He soon discovers that the dream is heavily scripted and his wife's part is played by a zombie. He concludes that they are in separate simulations, and that he can't do anything to affect her experience.

When they return from the vacation, the dreary story-telling resumes. From this point, the plot is mostly predictable. Eventually most of the characters are mind-wiped or pacified and returned to their proper place in society. A few have happier outcomes, but Boston doesn't make them very plausible.

The story is framed as the report of one of the guards (the Guardener of the title), but the viewpoint isn't maintained consistently. (Sometimes unusual features of the society are explained from a modern viewpoint, and other times as if by someone who grew up with them.) The guard's change of heart isn't motivated enough to be convincing, so the framing falls flat in the one place it might have changed the way we felt about the teller of the tale.

Overall, this was a disappointing book. The story is definitely a dystopia, but it wasn't very inventive, and it didn't hold my attention very tightly. I don't think there were any new insights about how tyrannies arise, how they persevere or fail, or why some people suffer quietly and others don't.

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