Pros: Could be worse
Cons: Premise, pace, characters, use of the English language…
Rating: 1 out of 5
Also published on Epinions.com.
I’ve been called a softy before when it comes to rating books. It’s true that the vast majority of my ratings are high, but I tend to think that’s because I choose my books carefully.
Apparently when I picked up a couple of books at the library the other day I wasn’t being so careful.
Biologist Jamie Kendrick is doing field work in the Amazon, and is starting to wonder why on earth she’s bothering any more. Just about the only thing that brightens her day now is Paolo, the local guide, but he largely seems to ignore her attempts to flash her cleavage at him. Just as he’s starting to show some interest, her morning run takes a turn for the strange—she finds a very tall, mysterious fence in the middle of the rainforest, topped with barbed wire. For some inexplicable reason she decides to scale it, and is shocked to find herself face-to-face with a chimp. Not just any chimp, but a chimp that writes “WHO AM I” in the dirt at her feet. When apprehended by security, she half-fast-talks, half-blackmails her way into a job at the company. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for the inevitable scientific disaster: the chimps escape, and the hapless scientists have to contain the results of their colleagues’ tampering with nature.
If the above description sounded rather corny… well okay, that’s probably my exasperation with this book leaking through. Before I even hit page 40 I put the book down, resolved to take it back to the library without finishing it. But no, I wanted to review it, so I gritted my teeth and continued.
Not only do the characters lack any real depth, but they trade character traits and voices back and forth seemingly at random, blurring into a mass of sameness except in rare instances. They’re mind-numbingly stupid, ignoring obvious conclusions at every turn (hellooooo, if the chimp can read and write, doesn’t it stand to follow that maybe, just MAYBE, it can understand what you’re saying about it?!). They’re also universally unlikable. They feel like cardboard marionettes, pulled along by strings that lead them to do exactly what they need to do to move the plot forward, whether or not it makes sense, particularly at the beginning of the novel. Most of this improves a bit toward the end, but by then it’s really too late to develop any kind of empathy or sympathy for the characters.
The dialogue is forced and cheesy. Characters lecture each other at random points, and the narrative lectures the reader equally. The morality play of mad-scientist-playing-god and sentience and souls is so heavy-handed it felt like a sledgehammer hitting the reader over and over. (Oh, my aching head.) Plot points are introduced at random and then forgotten again equally at random: at one point the scientists discover the altered chimps are having epileptic seizures, but this entire line of inquiry is then never raised or used again.
There are phrases and bits of description in this book that make no sense. You can tell the author put them in because he thought they sounded cool, but they’re ultimately meaningless or self-contradictory. The pacing is off; only a few supposedly tense moments actually come across that way, and much of the book plods along off-kilter, rarely pulling the reader in for more than a page or two at most.
There are some vaguely interesting ideas in here. In particular, the end of the book hints at potentially interesting material for a later book. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the idea of reading the mess that would be made of those one or two good ideas, so I certainly wouldn’t read any follow-on.