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Dream London
Tony Ballantyne
Solaris, 404 pages

Dream London
Tony Ballantyne
Tony Ballantyne is a teacher, teaching IT to 11-18 year olds. Recursion was his first novel.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Capacity
SF Site Review: Recursion

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

'He waved his hand to encompass the entire city.

"What you see here, Captain, is what you get when science is explained by artists! Something which looks beautiful, but doesn't make any sense."'

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Told in the first person, this is the story of Captain James Wedderburn, adored by women, respected by men and feared by his enemies. Wedderburn's mission is to discover who or what has twisted his home into another world. In Dream London, the city changes a little every night, and the people change a little every day. The towers are growing taller, the parks have hidden themselves away, and the streets are forming strange new patterns. There are people sailing in from new lands down the river, strange inhuman criminals emerging, and a path that spirals down into another world. But, does it lead to anywhere interesting?

The blurb for this book attracted my attention like a sun-catcher, glittering with temptation before my mind's eye. Alternate takes on the familiar are often good fun and occasionally the beginnings of greatness. The premise of something unknown literally warping reality on a nightly basis provides acres of room for interesting ideas and memorable characters. The former in this work are based around Angel Tower, where the English language and mathematical system are being literally rewritten, under the malign influence of unseen controllers ensconced on the upper floors. Then there are the concerned visitors, infiltrating from the outside world -- no one can leave Dream London -- representing foreign powers. These are forces desperate to ensure that their own cities do not fall prey to whatever reality sickness is afflicting London. Even if that means using the nuclear option. Another memorable invention are the Black Trains running on London's underground network, coming from elsewhere and heading for unknown destinations. The concoction is more than sufficient to produce a strange and intriguing tale. So you can imagine how disappointing it was to find the dots didn't join up. Never before have I read a novel where the lead character starts out clueless, bumbles cluelessly throughout the work, and ends, yes you've guessed it, clueless. Captain Wedderburn, the antihero of the story, is an ex-soldier turned gentleman pimp, with an overinflated opinion of himself and his place in Dream London. The potential is there for this to mean something, but is held back by the author's 2D approach to characterisation. Wedderburn is approached by the Cartel, an organisation seeking to resist the changes, and simultaneously by Honey Peppers, a foul-mouthed little girl representing an inhuman crime lord called the Daddio. Honey Peppers is always accompanied by brutish mutated Quantifiers, who enforce the Daddio's will. At one point this includes having Wedderburn raped by a mandrill in London Zoo. The pull and push between these forces, and the machinations of Angel Tower itself, dictate Wedderburn's mock progress, on his way to finding the truth. Except, what happens is more like a slow motion dissolve of the author's concept. The plot wobbles along, on several occasions teasing with the lure of something genuinely interesting, only to topple back to base level.

I really prefer to give authors the benefit of any doubt, accentuating the positives where possible. But when the author abused his own lead character, as far as I could discern for nothing more than shock effect, I regretted wasting my time. Yes, there were some nice turns of phrase, ideas I would love to have seen developed, and mechanisms begging for a clever explanation. But all things considered, I must regrettably conclude that readers on the lookout for quality alternate reality fiction should look elsewhere.

Copyright © 2014 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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