What I gleaned about the story: An old woman is dead. Urban violence is on the rise. The wealthy are making plans for the end of days. I suspect something is about to give.
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Analysis: The story begins with a fairly engaging prologue about an elderly woman, Mrs. Richardson, driving home after her doctor advised her, yet again, to stop driving at her age. I’m enjoying her slightly superior attitude as she muses about how eminently qualified she is to judge her own abilities, when she almost runs a woman down in the street. The woman leers in at her, enraged, and bangs on the glass.
From this, it is clear that Mrs. Richardson is not driving very fast at all. She attempts to break, but the car disobeys her and lurches forward into a storefront. More specifically, she: hurtled into a glass storefront. Poor Mrs. Richardson.
But then we are told: she died instantly from the impact.
What? The impact of her slow-moving car hitting a glass window? That just doesn’t seem plausible. Even if she’d hit a brick wall, the impression I got was that the car was almost crawling along. Certainly not fast enough to kill her.
Note: There’s also a secondary question of where the POV camera went after Mrs. Richardson died, but that got lost in the noise of her bizarre death and the riot that broke out immediately afterward.
Details: The unfortunate demise of Mrs. Richardson in the prologue left me saddened that I would not have her somewhat curmudgeonly view of the world to enjoy for the rest of the book, but then we are immediately introduced to Fallon O’Brien, who seems equally quirky and amusing, as he laments his ongoing persecutions at the hands of an easily amused God. There’s a certain bubble of crotchety humor running through the narrative voice that I find engaging.
Analysis: The next scene involves a new pair of characters; a driver and her passenger. The conversation between them is a bit tense, and the passenger sinks into silence while the driver just: stared at the windshield.
This irked me because drivers do not stare at the windshield. They stare through the windshield, at the road beyond. I immediately began to wonder why she was focused on the glass rather than the road ahead. Was there something wrong with the glass? I kept waiting for some traffic incident to catch her unawares. But it all turned out to be a red herring. It was just a poor choice of preposition that ended up suggesting something apparently unintended.
By the time I was convinced the windshield thing had been a simple mistake, I was already well into the rekindled conversation that followed and had to back up and read it again.
Analysis: Most genres have some unspoken expectations; things that are so common that everyone seems to just know about them. With romance novels, somebody better fall in love. Or at least in lust. With mystery novels, readers expect a crime of some kind. The more grievous, the better.
In science fiction, one of those expectations is that when you introduce a new technology, we’ll get at least a hand-wave of an explanation for how it works. It doesn’t have to be a physics dissertation—just a word or two will do, so that we know you’re not trying to get it for free. After all, tech without explanation is magic, and we don’t do magic in SF. (Unless you’re like JS Morin and explicitly doing wizard-powered space ships, but in cases like that, the magic and science are clearly labeled as such.)
This explanation requirement goes doubly true for stories set in the real world and double again if your tech is an improvement on some product or technology that we already know as commonplace. If you’ve built a better rocket, or even a waffle iron to pan-galactic standards, you have to give us at least a peek at how this marvel was achieved. Even if you have to resort to techno-babble.
But what you can’t do is make exorbitant claims about your incremental technology and simply expect us to take all those whiz-bang abilities and performance stats for granted. Like I said, this is not the magic kingdom. Spells and wizardry should be two aisles over.
In the case of this story, the technology in question is batteries. Our third (or is it fourth?) POV character has recently become a billionaire after having perfected a battery that charges almost instantly, never catches fire, has greater capacity, and lasts far longer than any other battery ever conceived by humanity. That’s great. Advancing battery function has the potential to be a game changer for human development, so I’m completely on board for this premise. But tell me, how does it work?
We’re given all kinds of insight into the benefits of the battery, and into the concomitant benefits that have begun to rain down on its inventor personally. But the more grandiose those benefits become, the more intensely I feel a need for some nod to how this marvel was achieved. I suppose it’s a sort of “paying your dues” thing. Anybody can say “new and improved, now with 87% more midichlorians.” But if you can’t back the claim up with some at least superficially plausible rationale, you haven’t earned your membership in the SF geeks club and you will be discommendated.
So do a quick Google search and hit me with your blather about carbon nanotubes in a matrix of cherry flavored Jello. I don’t need much, but I do need something.
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