Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review - Escape from Eternity by Nate Scholze

Short review: An unassuming British man changes personalities, flies to a version of Wisconsin that is a mish-mash of England, Wisconsin, and New England, and tries to find a person he knows from a previous life so they can both go back to being immortal.

British professor
Alien panspermia
Eternal escape

Disclosure: I received this book as a Review Copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Escape from Eternity is a modestly interesting but ultimately unsuccessful science fiction novel. Even though the core idea underlying the story is kind of intriguing, and could have been built into a decent novel, the inconsistent (and in many cases completely extraneous) characters and the bland and ultimately pointless plot undermine the good points of the novel and leave behind a dull and lifeless book. The frustrating thing about this book is that at the core there is a good science fiction idea, but the execution is so limp that the final product is simply uninspiring.

The book opens with William Nolan, respectable British professor and generally boring guy, investigating an apparent meteorite that landed near his property. Once he touches the object, his personality radically changes and he hops an airplane for Wisconsin. He then wanders around talking cryptically, getting into bar fights, and insisting that he has to find his friend Menonan. This proves to be a spectacularly unsuccessful means of actually achieving his objective, but because the book seems to operate without any real sense of logic or reason, he makes headway anyway, mostly by simply yelling at the right people.

Eventually Nolan, now calling himself Adrian, begins to more or less stalk a twenty-something year old woman named Laura Whitmore. Laura is a waitress working in a small restaurant, with a boss who sexually harasses her in such crudely blunt ways that one wonders how he manages to avoid being sued. Apparently hoping to confuse matters, the author sticks the evil boss with the name Adam. Naming two characters with similar names is something of a pattern for Scholze: he also attaches the name Michelle to Laura's sister, and the similar looking name Millie to the crotchety old woman who wants to kill Adrian. Not content with naming several of his characters similar names, Scholze gives each of them scenes with one another to keep the reader off-balance.

The story kind of meanders from there. Laura whines about her awful life, at some points being apparently dependent for rides upon a guy named Colin, who is apparently in love with her. At other times Laura has her own car and can drive herself to work and other engagements. Adrian shows up at Laura's home uninvited, and everyone around her assumes that this meant she was having sex with him. But that is more or less explainable because in the story pretty much every male character is enthralled by Laura's seemingly irresistible sex appeal and is willing to do anything for the chance of having sex with her. The only exception is her own domineering father, and even the relationship between Laura and him has some weirdly sexual dominant and submissive overtones. Adrian's method of convincing Laura to lead him to Menonan is to tell her to do so, over and over, and then when asked why she should he merely talks cryptically about how she wouldn't understand if he explained. Then he does explain and the explanation isn't so much not understandable as simply implausible.

The book is also drenched in almost random amounts of gratuitous violence. Now, I'm not opposed to violence and murder in my fiction, but the violence in the book was essentially extraneous and almost pointless. Adrian shows up in a bar and in response to someone being moderately rude to him, simply starts beating the guy up. Adam gets into a dispute over a robbery and murders his accomplice in an almost off-hand manner. Adrian finds Adam trying to rape Laura, so he kills him, doing so after he neutralized Adam as a threat to Laura. Barrington gets into an argument over the quality of a bar band (having been lured to the bar by the promise of Laura's supposedly preternatural beauty), so he beats up his adversary. Most characters seem to have almost no response to someone disagreeing with them other than to start punching, stabbing, or shooting. And no one else seems to find this level of violence to be particularly exceptional. If this is supposed to be a "normal" level of violence, one begins to think that the author believes that Wisconsin must resemble a war zone.

The big secret that Adrian has is his assertion that all humans are actually eternally living beings that created Earth to take a "vacation" by forgetting their eternal nature and living as finite beings. Adrian claims to be a self-aware spirit who has inhabited William Nolan in order to search for the head of the project, an entity called Menonan. Apparently a new phase of the project is imminent and Menonan must be found or some sort of unspecified disaster will ensue. Or rather, nothing much will happen and Menonan will get lost in the cycle and never remember that he is an immortal being. Against this backdrop, several story lines that go nowhere are presented. Adam harasses Laura, but is killed out of hand. People formulate elaborate plans to steal things and kill people, plans that go nowhere. Nolan's wife brings Agent Barrington, a British police officer, to Wisconsin to find her husband, but after apprehending and losing Adrian a couple times, that subplot goes nowhere as well. In the anticlimactic ending, the entire story turns out to have been entirely pointless.

Escape from Eternity seems like an oddly unfinished and slapdash effort. Plot lines are introduced and go nowhere. Characters mill about with no apparent purpose. The main plot fizzles out with a whimper. Even the language of the story seems off: the people in Wisconsin refer to their "village", a term that most Americans would not use in that way. A character trying to convince a pair of Wisconsin policemen that he is not British refers to getting his identification from his "other trousers" without anyone batting an eye. A pair of Wisconsin natives talk about being blown away by a "Nor'easter". And so on. And this oddness with language only serves to reinforce the incomplete feel of the rest of the book. And this is a shame, because the ideas in the book are interesting enough that they could have made a good story. sadly, the execution in this book just doesn't do the ideas justice.

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