Friday, April 3, 2015

The Map of the Sky

The title:  The Map of the Sky
The author: Felix J. Palma
Publication: Atria Books, 2012
Got it from: The library

Well, here it is: my first review in a long time that is going to be less than glowing.  Most of the time, I won't even bother picking up a book if I don't think I'm going to enjoy it. (Book club books excepted: I just had the dubious pleasure of slogging through another tedious Alice Munro book.  Blech.)  To be fair, I loved the first book in this trilogy, The Map of Time, but when I read the excerpt for this book in the back of that one, I went, "Nope.  Not for me." 

I thought that was the end of it, until a friend who also loved The Map of Time assured me that I absolutely had to read Sky, that I would love it.  Confession: I almost never take reading recommendations from other people, because 95% of the time I end up hating the book and resenting the time I wasted reading it.  However, I figured someone who loved a niche book like Time as much as I did could be on to something.  

I wish I hadn't bothered.

The Map of Time was based on H.G. Wells's The Time Machine and in Sky, it's based on The War of the Worlds.  As in Time, Sky is structured into three different acts.  The first one is a straight-up horror novel.  It concerns an early 19th century exploration ship that gets trapped in the Antarctic ice.  An alien ship crashes into the ice nearby and begins brutally murdering the crew members in extremely gruesome ways and taking over their bodies.  The second act concerns a character from the first novel, a crafty entrepreneur who falls in love.  To prove his love, he has to recreate the Martian invasion of The War of the Worlds, but things go awry when real aliens invade London.  Again, there is devastation and carnage.  In the third act, we see the mind-numbingly horrific dystopian future of mankind as they are reduced to slaves for the aliens and doomed to extinction.  There is a way for H.G. Wells to save the day, but the ending is so bleak and lonely, it's hardly the emotional uplift necessary to pull us out of this depressing mess.

I'm so sad that I read this.  I like Palma's voice as an author and his quasi-Victorian tone.  However, there was just too much wrong with this book for me.  First of all, it was too damn long.  At close to 600 pages, it could have easily been cut in half and the narrative would have held.  Second, I just really, really dislike horror and dystopias.  But all of this could have been saved had I liked the main characters and cared about them.  But I didn't.  Wells himself comes across as a self-centred, fussy little man incapable of love.  The two lovers from the second act were both annoying.  I liked Montgomery Gilmore in his alter ego from the first novel, but as a besotted lover he wasn't believable.  His love interest, Emma Harlow, was so selfish, spoiled and cruel that one wonders how her supposed beauty could make up for what a bitch she was.  Yet their so-called love is played straight, as if we are supposed to believe their messed-up "romance" is the greatest love story of all time.  

There were just two parts of the novel I liked.  The first is a brief section involving one of the aliens who has been living as a priest amongst humans his whole life.  When the Envoy arrives signalling the beginning of the invasion, he and the priest sit down to tea to discuss the future.  The priest has already assimilated into human culture.  He has become a gentle soul, caring for the plants, animals and people at his church.  As he tries to hide his sorrow at the impending massacre of the world, I couldn't help but think of the irony that he was the most human character in the novel.  I wish he had played a bigger role.  

The other redeeming part of the story involves the lovers from The Map of Time, reduced here to peripheral characters.  Claire and Captain Shackleton's love story in the first book is what I adore most about the whole series so far.  In Sky we see them as a happy married couple, and subsequent events in the novel show their deep and abiding love for each other in a way that actually retroactively strengthens their initial story.  I kept wishing that the main lovers would just hurry up and die so we could get back to Claire and Shackleton.

Actually, everything about Sky compares poorly to Time in my mind, not just the love story.  The intricacies and brain exercises of time travel are just so much more interesting and compelling and subtle than the senseless slaughter of horror.  And the twists and revelations in Time were a genuinely delightful surprise.  There was nothing delightful or surprising in Sky.  

I hope, hope, hope that the next one in the series, due in June and based on The Invisible Man, brings a return to everything I loved about the first novel.  I could do with some compensation for a month spent on books I didn't enjoy.

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