I think I might be getting old – or my reading is too eclectic, everything I’m reading is becoming ‘hard to review’
Let’s start with a (brief) recap, the ‘Long’ series is a Sci-Fi colab between Baxter and Pratchett and explores the discovery of The Long Earth, basically the ability to travel to alternative timeline Earths (possibly infinitely) simply by ‘Stepping’ between planets.
The interesting twist of this series is that this isn’t a Multi-verse type concept – more of an infinite mystery type scenario, in that the majority of the Earths have no human or other intelligent species on them, so effectively the human race is gifted with endless planets to dabble with.
The series of books mostly explores two angles of the concept – 1. being the strange mysteries of the ‘Long’ situation such as the Gap (an Earth that previously got destroyed) and the rare occurrences of intelligent and other bizarre life among the Long planets. The second concept is the impact, social and political and personal of this situation for the human race.
My experience of the series was mixed, I loved some of the bizarre concepts, and I thought the political exploration was hard-hitting and intriguing, where the series I felt was a let down is often the most interesting plots seemed to get dropped and there often felt like a lack of overarching story, just series of interesting points about the Long Earths.
So come the conclusion, overall I felt like the last story wasn’t too bad, it featured a lot of main character Joshua, and plenty of unusual musing on the Long situation coupled with the main plot driver a mysterious “JOIN US” message coming from sources unknown.
Where the story fizzled was in that overarching conclusion. While the final few scenes felt like they had the potential to give us one final intriguing sci-fi hit about the Long concept, I feel like the ending was just a little too open ended and thusly dull. I did initially think perhaps I was too foolish to grasp the conclusion but (and not saying I’m not dumb) it seems like a quick Google isn’t bringing up too many answers either. Basically it felt like Stepping was revealed to be a sort of metaphor for intelligence and imagination, but I couldn’t tell if the moral of the story that stepping is only limited by intelligence or imagination, or that intelligent life is the meaning of the universe, or if just the end of the story was that the human race (and others) can now step across Earths and the Cosmos.
I guess my frustration is there was so much potential to this series – potential for bizarre alien contacts, potential for conflict between the Next and the Dim-bulbs, potential of Long Earth tyranny or further conflicts. I’m not unhappy that I read the series, nor are they bad books by any stretch, but I just find they prompt wishing for better I guess.
If anyone has also read this book and series could enlighten me as to the final meaning of the conclusion I would be very welcome to hear about it!
Been a while since I actually blogged something rather than just reviews… so
Something that is almost instantly recognizable about the story landscape of recent decades is the ubiquitous nature of stories about ‘bad-guys’. Sure its hardly a new thing in history to tell a tale from a traditionally wrong side, however over the past while (in my opinion) I would say generally the popularity and acceptance of stories told has increased to the point where its borderline the norm. We’ve got stories about vampires, werewolves, serial killers, corrupt politicians, drug dealers, gang and mafia members, super-villains… the list goes on.
In some respects this shouldn’t be totally surprising, books more-so than movies and shows I would say have long been about explaining human nature, and wrong-doing is a common intrigue of human nature. What interests me today though is some of the tips and tricks that writers use to make bad-guys ‘good’ and manipulate our emotions to make sure that keep bought into a story that is ostensibly ‘bad.’
These points are not necessarily requirements, or always used exactly as I think they should, but my argument is that any story with a character who is ‘bad’ needs something along these lines to work.
(By the way by saying ‘bad’ all the time I’m really referring to characters with either stereotypical bad-guy professionals or vocations, or people with genuinely immoral actions or characters not trying to be judgy about any particular behaviour or action and I’m also going to give up writing “bad” in scare quotes.)
Make the “Good Guys” bad
On the one hand, writing about bad-guys provides almost instant intrigue and good story fodder, actions that cause conflict, intuitive tension and natural protagonists.
There is a pitfall however, if law-enforcement or heroes are the MCs main antagonists and the MCs are doing all the bad things then audiences may quickly start to relate to and root for the wrong side. What I’ve noticed very many televisions shows do is ensure that the traditionally ‘good’ character are highly flawed, unrelatable or downright worse than the bad-guys (more on that final point later)
For example in Sons of Anarchy, a show about a motorcycle gang that dominates small town Charming, there are a series of law-enforcement characters that take them on. They are however shown to be generally corrupt, overly ambitious, reckless, or even in some cases borderline psychopathic. The interesting thing about this strategy is not necessarily to make audiences effectively weigh up the morality of the characters and flip them, its a subtle manipulation to make the traditionally good-guys more unrelatable and thusly not lose the audience to them. For another example in Breaking Bad, a lot of character drama occurs between Walter and his Brother-in-law Hank a DEA agent. While as the show progresses there are some definitely morally bad decisions made by Hank, in the early seasons the dynamic I mentioned is really just created by having Hank be the very image of toxic masculinity, its effectively enough to make us disengage from him so we don’t particularly want him to succeed (at first anyway)
It seems no co-incidence to me that stories that focus on bad-guys often have increased family focus. Admittedly its hard to separate as often part of the story is the impact of dubious morality of people’s family but I also think its a valid strategy for ensuring bad-guys remain relatable. In the Netflix Series ‘Start-Up’ all the MCs have family connections and relevant story lines, however I would argue Ronald Darcy’s tale is almost drenched in family – in fact if my memory serves his introduction scene involves a sequence of greeting his various family members before leaving the house to take-over the torture of a rival gang member. It’s not hard to imagine how differently the scene would impact if the family sequence hadn’t been included, and we’re just greeting to a character engaging in torture.
Worser and Worser
As well as making ostensible good guys bad, a good bad-guy is almost always juxtaposed with an even worse individual. In the above example we see Darcy eventually show mercy to the rival gang member however also are introduced to his chief, a violent hot-head with no mercy whatsoever.
This technique is also used in Breaking Bad, where despite Walter White becoming increasing horrible himself, there is always a more unethical, more diabolical character nearby.
Dexter almost had this (along with the next point) down to a formula, because Dexter used his serial killer tendencies to hunt other murderers, the story was almost essentially about showing people worse than Dexter getting their comeuppance.
Having a Code
Another common technique is presenting bad guys with some sort of code. Whether this be loyalty to family, as mentioned Dexter having a set of rules, or in the case of Sons of Anarchy a set of guidelines the gang tends to stick to or limits they don’t cross makes bad guys tolerably good (usually)
The code is an interesting stratagem because in real life such an approach probably wouldn’t be too redeeming (how reassuring would you find Dexter’s code in real life) however in fiction its almost like a get-out-of-jail-free card, in the sense that in a fictional world we just need some sort of moral high ground to cling to, even if it doesn’t make much sense IRL. Its almost more about the characters having some redemptive traits to consider rather than anything we actually agree with.
While I think the above points (and I’m sure some I’ve missed) are important for good bad guys, I also think there are some exceptions. House of Cards seems a good example of the character Frank being almost completely rotten through and through. In my opinion only the very beginning of the series where we see Frank get shafted by the new president, so we have a momentary underdog thing going on, is Frank relatable. Otherwise the series is very much full of secondary characters who range from decent to semi-decent, but never as evil as Frank. I guess there is no denying that even deplorable characters are intriguing without any fancy strategies as above.
A few final points
I think the above strategies are also useful for redeeming previously bad guy characters, and also oddly I guess also techniques for making ‘good’ guys stand out!
For this post I’ve largely focused on TV shows, in part because I think that is where the bad-guy trend is more noticeable, as I think novels usually have a lot more grey-area narratives as a general feature, but it would be interesting if anyone had any examples of similar stories in books?
So apparently Pratchett didn’t much like writing Sourcery, thinking the book was more for fans (wanting Rincewind back) than his own interests.
And in some respects one can see that in the book, the plot while still awesome does feel a bit like a rewrite of Equal Rites, in fact it seems that earlier book is retconned from the series (although I see on Wikipedia that Eskarina does reappear later so will address that then) basically rather Sourcery still contains an 8th son of an 8th son and an older Wizard zapped into a staff, but instead of looking at the gender politics this time Pratchett explores the power.
Despite being ‘for the fans’ Sourcery is a pretty darn good book, like most of the early Discworld novels its actually fairly short, but in my opinion has a bit more depth and detail than the first few books, and feels like the Discworld is becoming much more of a ‘World’. Sure Rincewind has already zapped all over the Disc with Two-Flower but something about the descriptions of Ankh-Morpork etc feels more developed.
We also see more recurring characters like the Librarian, and a fairly brief time with the Patrician again, who as mentioned in my earlier reviews of the first Discworld novels has yet to develop into the benevolent manipulator of later novels.
The ending of Sourcery is pretty bad-ass and I can’t image what people thought at the time!
Raced ahead on reading through Sandman’s so will post all the reviews at once:
What to say about Sandman Vol 3? Those looking for ongoing epic plots will be disappointed, however those looking for an intriguing range of tales will not. I have to confess I thought I was in the former group at first but in reflection there is something memorable and hard hitting about these individual stories. I think while at first they seem fairly fantastical there is something about all the stories that makes you think twice about the world and life.
Something I’m wondering is how the upcoming series will go on with Sandman comics, my initial assumption (which could easily be wrong) is that the first season will cover the first volume. Possibly though stand alone episodes will be peppered throughout? Really looking forward to see what happens though.
Sandman Volume 4 is one of the more memorable epic storylines, we see a return to some earlier threads with Sandman attempting to right a past wrong and returning to a Hellish setting first seen in Vol 1.
The story is quite fascinating in that rather than leaning into metaphysical action, its very ‘political.’ We see a whole lot more of the other Endless as well as a massive expansion on the mythology of the world (if I have my sense correct this is also where the Sandman universe is revealed to be splintered off from the DC universe). It’s almost impossible to discuss further without some form of spoilers. All I will say is the ending is very satisfying but also hints at more to come.
I confess I can’t really rate any of Gaiman’s Sandman at less than 5 stars, but also I can say that Game of You was probably one of my least preferred Volumes so far. I think its just an odd mix of story. It was an overarching plot very similar to Vol 2, except rather than a ‘Dream Vortex’ there is some sort of ‘Islet’ (or something can’t remember the word right now) and a ‘Cuckoo.’ These dream issues create quite a harrowing and bizarre tale for a collection of misfits, again very similar to Vol 2 (in fact centered around one of the eccentric characters from that collection)
The tale doesn’t feature much of the Sandman himself and what it does feature I wouldn’t say has a of development, there are some strong human(?) storylines but this volume mostly had me wanting another epic Endless story.
Doll’s House is an interesting second Volume for the Sandman. perhaps better targeted for a more patience audience (or one that enjoys the weird diversions and ‘slice of lifes’) this volume doesn’t actually feature much of The Sandman. Instead we follow the mortals (and others) affected by the Sandman’s absence in the previous volume. There are a couple of segues/stand alone stories which build the character of Sandman – however the majority of the tale is about the mysterious ‘dream vortex’ and four creatures missing from The Dreaming. We are also introduced to a couple more of the Endless and learn some pieces of lore for the ongoing story.
Overall the story maintains a level of gruesome that the first volume did, however is perhaps more grounded, in the sense we see much more human evil and evil the odd dreams are character based rather than Sandman zooming off to Hell, or to battle super-villains stealing his powers.
Re-reading (although huge confession, I haven’t read all of Sandman YET) Sandman in anticipation of the upcoming Netflix series. I’m partially anxious as far as adaptions go I think its generally accepted that they can be a mixed bag. Especially a story like Sandman…
Gaiman’s Sandman captures so many things its hard to do it justice in a review. Dark, mysterious, timeless, yet nail-biting. I think what I love most about Sandman is how Gaiman manages to create the mythology to feel like our protagonist is indeed Timeless, but also fallible, and ‘human’ in many respects. It’s easy to take for granted, but somehow through a mix of genuine mythology, original creations and balanced story-telling the universe of the Sandman and the Lord of Dreams himself feels both supernatural and not OTT.
Strangely as a side note Sandman is based in the DC Universe, although if I have my facts straight I think its considered its own universe or a unique cannon.
Rereading Sandman in the era of ‘gritty reboots’ its interesting and mildly disturbing to be reminded that dark AF stories have existed for a number of decades and in some respects stories like Sandman seem way more intensely grim than modern stuff.
So at any rate I’m deeply curious about the upcoming TV series, and looking forward to working through the graphic novels too.
Picked up The Last House on Needless Street (after various misspellings and disordering of the title words) at the recommendation of a friend, and didn’t read any blurbs or information beforehand so came in with a totally open mind.
And the experience was well, interesting. It’s difficult to say too much about the book without some sort of spoiler so I’ll have a light spoiler half of the review later. without revealing anything, Last House on Needless St is definitely a psychological deep dive, don’t expect sweeping vistas of landscape or action sequences, prepare for strange, humane ruminations and mental peril.
The last thing I’ll say without spoilers is that the narration style is quite quirky and odd (or stronger words I guess) which might not suit all readers, luckily from page one you can see what I mean so if it isn’t your cup of tea you’ll know straight away.
So I’m not really going to ‘spoil’ anything here, but more than kind of “saying there is a twist is spoiler” type stuff. Needless St certainly brings the concept of unreliable narrator to 11, and throws a lot of red herrings throughout the story. It’s the kind of tension where you know something is going to get revealed but you don’t really know what, there are moments that suggest a supernatural theme, others that suggest the obvious (and horrific) things are actually what happens. The final thing I will say is when you have such a mix for a story its hard to actually have a satisfying ending because in a way one can’t top one’s own horrified imagination as you try to make sense of the story.
Overall definitely happy to have read Needless St, don’t think I will put it on any top ten lists but for sure is memorable and interesting.
Any of y’all read The Last House on Needless St, what did you think of the ending? Satisfying? Frustrating? Happy/Sad?
So I have a bit of an odd soft-spot for Mort. Odd, because its not the first Discworld Novel that I’ve read, but it is the first graphic-novel of the Discworld I picked up when I was quite young. Funnily I didn’t really ‘get’ the Discworld a the time, I did not understand why the MC was not heroic and him and the love interest(?) where busy insulting each other constantly.
Nonetheless it was a strange pleasure going back to read Mort, something I am finding going through the Discworld Novels with an older lens is there is a much different feel to the books. Probably the most surprising is that once you connect with more of the humour the stories do seem less serious, it is satire afterall.
As a bit of an aside I find it interesting that most people see the Discworld series as quite ‘wacky’ and fun but I think due to reading them at an early age and missing much of the jokes I do find myself tapping into the darker elements of the novels (in a good way).
Speaking of – back to Mort itself, the story is the first of the Death novels, and interesting doesn’t continue with its two main/side? characters Mort and Yssabel. I wonder if perhaps Mort as a character is a little too close to Rincewind (who incidently features briefly in Mort, most main characters do not cross paths in Discworld Novels however they do appear quite frequently).
Something intriguing with Mort is Prachett has refined his plotting with this novel, messing with ideas about how timelines/fate and choices collide, branching out into a story which is more about the consequences of the characters’ actions rather than a typical fantasy magical threat of some kind.
All of Prachett’s Discworld Characters are ‘the best’ but the Death series is particularly fascinating thread that I’m looking forward to recounting the rest of.
John had been sweating for three hours in the Warehouse before he realized Arthur hadn’t shown up for work. Shit. For a few moments John worries less about his friend and more about the fact that John was so focussed on his KPI targets and blinking salt from his eyes that he’d not even noticed his friend’s absence? Arthur’s ramblings were coming true, things needed to change. Then again maybe it was talking like that which was why Arthur wasn’t there today. John mopped his brow. Still 30 minutes till a Closet-Break. Couldn’t afford to look around.
Finally the quiet ticker strapped to his belt signalled break-time. John set himself up in the Closet, but instead of sitting down, he propped himself up on the walls and looked out the vents. After seeing the same sight for so many years it was strange to actually look at theWarehouse with a purpose. Endless grey shelves, infinite cardboard boxes, an army of faceless workmates John barely knew.
“Hey, hey, Jane!” John opened the closet and waved.
“What? What!” Jane looked back at John like she was being terrorized. “You tryna get my pay docked?” Jane kept walking.
“No, wait.” John gasped. He was going to regret not using his break to catch his breath. “Have you seen Arhur today?”
Jane’s expression changed from angry to worried for a moment. “No. He alright?”
Jane’s gaze snapped up to the massive clock hanging from the ceiling beams. Without another word she ran.
John’s lungs screamed at him the rest of the afternoon shift, he thought about Arthur the whole time and missed his daily KPI. Couldn’t even spare time to think in this place. John clocked out of the warehouse and took the Conveyer-Cart around to the sleep pods. The unit next to John’s was empty. So Arthur hadn’t been left in bed on quarantine. They hadn’t filled his spot though, so he was still employed.
After wolfing down his Pro-Meal John climbed to his pod and lay looking out over the Bay. It really wasn’t much different from the Warehouse, just lines of Eating-Stations of folk filling their stomachs and walls of Sleep-Pods. At least there was less running. Usually John passed out within a few minutes, tonight his mind felt like it had been set alight, burning. All the questions Arthur had been throwing around were dwelling deep in John’s head and not going anywhere. Surely there was more to life than this? How had it ever gotten this far, where people had nothing to their lives except staying out of the slum?
Arthur had been telling John crazy stories. Ideas about groups called Unions, Movements, Strikes, Class Action. He said that many people in the past had tried to organize to fight back, but they had always been shut-down before they even started. Like somehow history itself was against them. John thought that Arthur was crazy, but staring out across the Warehouse and the Bay and seeing all these people, all these workers, made John wonder if Arthur wasn’t onto something.
Work was going to be hell tomorrow if John didn’t sleep, but his head wasn’t going to let him. He found himself leaving the sleep pod climbing down the ladder and walking out into the night. So strange. It felt like there should be some alam, security, or something. Obviously the proximity scanning chip would show that John had left the premises and would automatically disallow any consideration for a wellbeing day, not that those ever got considered anyway.
The Slums were literally only a block away. John had never set foot in them before.
They were both everything and nothing he’d been warned about. As he strolled the road and pavement changed from straight lines, into flowing gravel and dirt. The houses didn’t look like a strong breeze would topple them, they looked like they’d already been toppled and the people living their had just continued. Every few blocks a foul smelling pit would dominate a sector, and every other corner had a water-well – straight out of olden times.
That said, the place wasn’t full of monsters and waifs. There were plenty of people about, grim and thin, yet they smiled at John as he passed and no-one seemed to be sizing him up for a robbery.
“Excuse me.” John approached a group of men and women sitting around a fire burning within an upright metal drum. “I’m looking for a friend of mine?”
“Another worker?” An older woman asked.
John looked down at his bright orange overalls. “Yeah I guess.”
The woman shrugged. “We see quite a lot come down through here, but no-one for a while.”
“Hey, cheer up Working Man. What’s your friend’s name?”
One of the group – a younger woman with hair in dreadlocks that reached to her ankles frowned. “Arthur. Well haven’t seen him for a while but we had an Arthur come here regular for a while, wanted to listen to our stories.”
“Stories?” John stepped a little closer to the fire and crossed his arms against the cold.
The group shared looks at each other until turning to the original older woman, who nodded. “Not much else to do around here, other than survive and talk about the People’s History.” The woman paused and drew in a breath. “Your friend Arthur wanted to here all about past movements, rights strikes, rallies and the like.”
Nodding John replied. “That is definitely Arthur. But I don’t understand. All these groups and movements, they never lasted or never did anything. Why was Arthur so interested?”
There was a long silence. The old woman stared at John. “That’s because they were always stopped, crushed before they even started.”
“But thats not what history says. These things always fell over because they didn’t have enough local support, or never really took off, or came to pieces because of infighting.”
“That’s true, in a fashion of the truth. We think there is more to it. Haven’t you ever wondered, how the Companies control your life so completely? How there isn’t a single piece of your life you can’t give them just in case? We have a theory.”
John was practically grabbing the woman now. “Tell me.” He whispered.
“The reason that The Labour Movement never happened is because someone went back to stop them.”
“I’m talking about someone equipped with the hindsight and the history books and all the power in the world went back in time and changed history to give themselves more power.”
“Time-Travel?” John eased back on his feet. He rubbed his forehead. He could remember distantly in the few snippets of stories and movies he’d been allowed growing up, tales about time-travel. It seemed impossible then, just made-up for stories. Seemed just as impossible now.
“I know, I know. Foolish, to even think it. But look at the patterns. Dozens, hundreds of movements, workers rights, civils rights, women’s marches. Somehow mysteriously never quite getting big enough to have an effect, and no reactions from the governments to cause more fuss. Almost as if someone read through history and planned just how to change things to benefit them.”
“But, but- what about time travel, surely that would be impossible to hide. Wouldn’t we know about it?”
“You really think they’d let us know about it?”
“Worker!” A buzzsaw of a voice rang through the darkness. A drone hovered overhead and shone a light in John’s face. The rest of the group scattered.
“You are 3 hours over recommended sleep for a productive tomorrow. Recommend returning to Recreation Bay.”
“Yeah fine.” John waved the drone away and trudged back through the broken streets to his sleep-pod.
He did not get any sleep.
The next day was a hell of missing targets, dropped boxes and blurred vision. At the end of the shift John received a memo informing him that due to his “sudden departure from expected outcomes he was being offered respite in Sanitation duties.”
At least he still had a job.
Walking back to the Recreation Bay a sudden idea possessed John. Taking a few more steps beyond the ladder to his Pod, John climbed another ladder and entered Arthur’s Sleep Pod. It was of course identical to his own, but John found himself bending and twisting in the narrow space to examine every surface he could reach. About to give up and ready to slide himself out of the pod, he found something. Arthur, the sly dog, had pulled the stitching from his pillow surface and stuffed all manner of papers in there. John flicked through trying to make sense of it all. Much the same as what Arthur always went on about, with notes scribbled on margins reading much like what the slummers spoke about.
John shoved the papers back into the pillow and slid out of the pod. He looked around guiltily as he switched ladders and got back into his own. No-one even spared him a glance.
Through sheer sleep deprivation John won an entire nights sleep. Sanitation wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. Yes the constant transport of fecal matter and vomit reeked and John suspected the smell would stay with him permanently. And following the Porters around like a dog with a disinfectant wipe was demeaning. But the KPIs were very basic and the tasks required a lot less concentration.
It was about halfway through afternoon shift when someone leapt out at John as he emptied sewage.
“Arthur.” John gasped his voice croaky with foul air.
“Quick come with me.” His friend beckoned wildly.
John looked at the empty tanker in his hands and back at the Warehouse.
“We’ve got worse shit than that to clean up.” Arthur grabbed John’s arm. He dragged John down some blank corridors and stepped through an odd wedge in a concrete wall, pulling John into a small bunker.
“This room isn’t on the floor-plan. It’s some sort of construction error so the drones and cameras don’t scan it.”
John found a cold sweat was forming across his hairline. “What’s happened Arthur, where have you been?”
Arthur pulled John further into the room and gestured to a figure lying propped up in the corner.
“Are they alright?” John stepped forward then immediately jumped back. The right edge of the man’s head was like a deflated pastry. Blood crusted his face.
“Arthur, what the hell have you done?”
Arthur held his hands up. “Let me explain.”
John backed up to the furthest edge of the room.
“You know how I’ve been looking into getting organised? Trying to get The Company to listen to us and give us some rights?”
John nodded slowly.
“Well, I was getting close, put together some plans, got hold of a pretty big part of the Warehouse crew.” Arthur started pacing a bit and shaking his head. “Then out of nowhere this guy appears.” He looked at the far edge of the room where a wide scar was carved into the concrete. “For some reason he swung to the right with the shotgun and missed completely. Gave me a chance to-to.” Arthur drifted into silence and waved at the dead body.
John swallowed and stepped closer to the dead man. “Is that. It can’t be?”
Arthur nodded. “It is.”
“You killed the Owner of The Company?” John leaned closer to the dead body. He didn’t believe it but there was no mistaking it, John had seen the Owner’s image a thousand times, on stickers, posters, the side of trucks. And here he was, Samuel Devine, just like on the pictures except with half his skull caved in. “What the hell happened?” John muttered.
“Well obviously I hit a nerve with my plans.” Arthur said, sounding anything but proud.
John’s gaze fell to the firearm flopped across the man’s lap. “Why would the Owner of The Company come to shoot you himself?”
“Well, this is going to sound unbelievable.”
“Time travel?” John countered.
Arthur paused. “Look at this.” Arthur crouched and pulled open the Owner’s shirt. There was some sort of machinery embedded directly into his neck and shoulder. “The only possible reason I can figure Samuel Devine himself would come to shoot me was that he didn’t trust anyone else with time-travel technology.”
Shaking his head, John paced around the room. It didn’t make any sense. Except it did.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” John noticed Arthur had developed a twitch in his right wrist.
“So, in theory, Mr Devine is alive and well right now, but at some point in the future he is going to go back in time to kill you and will never come back?”
Arthur rubbed his face and stared at the dead body. “I have no idea how it works, what if Devine finds out I killed him so uses time travel to do a better job next time?”
“Well wouldn’t that have already happened then?” John replied.
“I have no damn idea!” Arthur’s face was red from his stressful rubbing
“Alright, alright. I have a plan.” John touched Arthur’s shoulder and pulled his arm back as Arthur flinched away. “Look, you killed The Owner, whether from now or the future and I think that means a lot of trouble. But maybe I just happened to find him here while on Sanitation, maybe it could help the situation to alert the authorities.”
Arthur started at John. “You can’t, they’ll crucify you.”
“It’s better than what they’ll do to you.”
Arthur stared for a few moments longer. “There’s isn’t much else for it is there?”
John nodded. “Get out of here, I’ll give you a few minutes then I’ll call security.”
Breathing heavily, Arthur gave The Owner’s corpse a final look, then dashed out of the bunker-room without looking back.
John quietly counted the seconds as he walked around the room. He ran his hand over the bullet holes in the far wall. He scanned the low ceiling looking for the hidden cameras. Finally he adjusted the The Owner’s shirt and stared at the mechanical lump installed in his shoulder. As if staring long enough would reveal what was real.
“Alright sir, here we go.” John covered up the perhaps time-travel device and lugged the body out of the room. Human beings were often a lot heavier than people expected – but for once a lifetime of hefting packages at high speed served John well. He hauled the body out into the main corridor only breaking a sweat due to nerves.
“Help, someone. Call the police!” He yelled. The few other workers that spotted them quickly dashed away like he was last night’s bad date. John remembered that emergencies weren’t covered in KPI exceptions.
When the police did show up John was not surprised to see them resting their hands on their tasers. He was surprised when they started with: “We had a call about someone disrupted productivity on this floor. Sir would that be you?”
John flicked his gaze to the body and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m more concerned about this.”
The police person’s eyes widened and one of them started unclipping their weapon. Beforethey could make a move, a pair of hulking Company Security Guards appeared dressed all in black. “We’ll take it from here.”
The police immediately cast their gaze down and left like punished school children.
One of the guards hefted the body as if it were nothing, the other glared at John. “Come with us, now.”
John felt his mouth lose moisture, all he managed was a nod. The Security led him through the warehouse to a steel door opened by a fingerprint scan, which took them to a travel-ator which pulled them all the way to the edge of the Compound. Once there they shoved John into an unmarked black van with completely concealed windows. John sat in a backseat and tried not to sweat. The drive didn’t last long before John was pulled outside and then into another building. Blinking against the brightness, the best John could tell he was in a tower. Then they were back in an elevator flying upwards.
John’s eyes finally cleared up and he took in his location. A wide concrete roof, the city laid out all before him. The vertigo hit almost immediately. Where they going to throw him off? His legs jellied and he started to fall against the guard. A hand like a lump of metal clamped onto John’s collar and steered him towards a helicopter.
The flight was a blur to John. He spent most of it staring at the floor of the vehicle and trying not to puke.
Eventually the helicopter settled, God only knew where, and John was dragged through a series of glass corridors until he was unceremoniously dumped on a chair.
“Thank you gentleman. You may excuse yourselves.”
“Sir?” Suddenly the guard’s voice sounded like a child’s.
“Leave now.” Samuel Devine’s voice sounded utterly ridiculous, he was so powerful he didn’t have to bother actually sounding authoritative or anything in particular, his voice squeaky and warped.
The guards looked at each other then made a quick exit.
John looked at The Owner. He looked pretty much as he had before except alive. And staring darkly at John.
“So I understand you found my dead body.”
“It is extremely in your interest to give me as much information as you have. You’re a Warehouse Porter yes?”
“Actually, just moved to Sanitation.”
Samuel’s face wrinkled. “Tell me everything and you’ll never have to work again.”
John looked around. As much as he could tell, the building was just as big, if not bigger, than the Warehouse Cpmpound, and nestled in the middle of a lush forest. It appeared to be entirely devoted to Samuel, who presumably did not have to sleep in a pod among two hundred other workers.
“There is a hidden room in the Warehouse, a small concrete bunker where a friend of mine was planning some sort of workers’ movement.”
Samuel seemed more disgusted than the thought of sanitation. He leaned forward. So, I must have gone to prevent that happening, tell me how was your friend was able to kill me?”
John looked around the glass palace and back at Samuel Devine, the man responsible for it all. The Owner. The One-Man Economy. Functionally Limitless in Wealth. And a Time-Traveller.
“I’ll never have to work again?”
Samuel nodded slowly. “Not another day of your life.”
“Arthur said that you swung left. If you’d just swung right and fired immediately he’d be dead now.”
Samuel leaned back on his chair and looked thoughtful. “This is going to be a tricky one for the paradox algorithm. I’m going to have to stick as close as possible to the current timeline to make this work. Come with me.” The Owner withdrew a familiar looking shotgun from under his desk and loosely pointed it at John. “Just in case. You know you’re the only non-security personnel to have ever set foot here?”
John nodded mutely. He let Samuel lead him through the palace until he entered a machine room, the centre-piece which looked like an upright coffin with dozens of tiny laser and radar dishes lined up and down its sides. Samuel busied himself with the controls all while muttering to himself.
“Yes?” Samuel did not look up.
“How will I, aren’t you concerned about me seeing this. What happens after you?”
Samuel stood up and looked at John directly. “I’m hugely sorry, uh, whatever your name was. Truth is once I enter that machine and dispose of your friend then it will be as if you were never here. Without my unfortunate demise you will never set foot here at all. It’s probably better than being gunned down immediately though correct?”
John felt his heart pound strangely. “What will happen to me?”
Samuel shrugged. “I have no idea what its like for people like you. I’ll shoot back a couple of days, and well, also shoot your friend and will wake up back here. Not dead.”
“Does anyone else have this?”
Samuel shrugged. “There are a couple of other machines in the world, we have an agreement not to interfere with each other’s interests.” The Owner stepped towards the machine, plugging something into his shoulder and stood in the chamber.”
I jumped into Midnight Library as a book club recommendation with zero expectations – and I must say I really was quite happy with the experience of reading this book.
At first I confess the opening pages did not seem as uplifting as promised, however needn’t have worried! The story is challenging, and at times deeply sad, but ultimately will not destroy anyone’s sanity (I hope)
What I think I like best about Midnight Library is the premise is presented as somewhat fantasical, and could very easily fall off the rails of believability, yet somehow Haig manages to pen quite a grounded story around a far out idea. It’s often the hallmark of brilliant writing when you pick up a book and immediately feel you are where the character(s) are.
I did have a couple of wierd thoughts about the story the book. As Nora explores parrallell universes I couldn’t help but recall some psychology studies that show that people do tend to be specific in their regrets, in that after an adverse event we’ll often ruminate on tiny changes close to the event that could have changed it, we often don’t ‘go wide’ e.g. after a fender-bender we fantasize about tapping the breaks a little earlier, not something like leaving home earlier that day which would have definitely avoided the accident. But the point is the story of Midnight Library kind of catches that thinking as Nora explores further and further into different lives.
Another odd thought is I was reminded a litte of Rick and Morty which is obviously not grounded, but I did have a moment where I wondered if Nora woudl stumble on a more bizzaro parrellel universe.
One final thought – and this is very much a commentary NOT a criticism, but I did find that I am probably a key audience member of Midnight library being the same age as Nora and finding her at times gloomy/nihilisitc thinking relatable. But I did consider that there is an element of entitlement or priviledge to the story of Midnight Library. I couldn’t help but imagine a similar tale but for someone more disadvantaged or whose struggles were more inflicted upon them rather than having a book of regrets. As said I don’t say this as criticism, and obviously the story is specifically about the nature of regret not a literal journey through parrallel universes, it was just a thought I had while reading.
All in all, Midnight Library is a great read – bit of a mid-life crisis type book which is OK. 5 stars