Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tome of the Undergates: Some impressions

The latest "Big Idea" post on John Scalzi's blog "Whatever" has kind of stirred me into some kind of...thing.

Sam Sykes has written a Big Idea post about his debut novel, Tome of the Undergates. Not only have I been reading this one, but I've been kind of sort of having a Twitter interaction with Sam himself (his twitter profile). We've talked about video games and stuff. We're totally like BFF now. Who wants to touch me? I SAID WHO WANTS TO F#*$#%G TOUCH ME?!

Whew. Anyway. When I saw that Tome was available on Kindle, and at a reasonable price, I bought it rather impulsively. I'm now about 20% in, and I'm of two minds about this book...on one hand, Sam has a VERY strong grasp of prose for fun's sake. Meaning, he's not some pretentious writer's workshop obfuscator, but he's also not some low-brow hack. I love his action scenes, and he never lets things get too quiet. His characters speak naturally, relative to their crazy-assed personalities.

On the other hand, the book is pretty much a role playing game session on paper. More specifically, it's a D&D/WRPG in the "Planescape: Torment/Dragon Age: Origins" milieu, right down to characters having inflexible classes ("Rogue", "Archer", "Healer-Priestess"...I'm surprised he's not called anyone a "tank" yet.) So things get really, really game-y. For some that's good, for some that's bad, but forwarned is forearmed as they say. I personally enjoy playing these kinds of games, but the jury's still out if I want to read a story which is essentially someone else playing these kinds of games.

What's more, these people are horribly, horribly broken. Broken beyond all hope of sympathy, from me, anyway. I know that Sam thinks it's part of their charm, or raison d'etre even (you would know that too, if you read the Whatever post...did you?), It's really, really hard to care about them. REALLY hard. I'm not sure in what world "genocidal fury tempered by occasional attraction" qualifies as essentially human, but it's not one I'm sure I want to live in, even by proxy. And I still haven't figured out why they're together. Apart from two of the characters seeming to have serious schoolgirl/boy crushes on others, for the most part they seem almost murderously hateful toward each other. Nothing really shows why they are together as a party...not even money seems strong enough a motivator to overcome the revulsion that seems to flow between nearly all of the main characters.

In that Big Idea piece, Sam wrote "It’s about a world that makes such people that can be bound together only by their own self-loathing and what they find in each other to keep going." is absolutely descriptive of this book. Thinking about doesn't sound very fun, actually. Self loathing mixed with hatred for everyone around you makes for...suicide? Psychopathic rampages? A journey of self-discovery? A very special "Blossom"?

I hope I find out soon.

That all being said, the book is not, by any rubrik, a bad one. It's quite well written and immensely fun in lots of parts. But the parts that are not fun are all the more unpleasant because of the contrast. I will continue reading, and unless the ending is utter crap (I suspect it's not) I'll likely read the sequels. SO I'm hooked, I'm just not sure how happy I am about the fact...

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