Orbit / Little, Brown
UK Hardcover First
337 Pages; £14.99
Us Hardcover First (January 2002)
337 Pages; $25.95
Date Reviewed: 02-26-02
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2002
For all the permutations possible in the genre, science fiction in practice is rather staid and unimaginative. This is not to say that it's bad. But most science fiction novels use no more of the their possible potential than the average commuter uses to pilot his car home through the traffic choked streets for the ten thousandth time. For all their weirdness, for all the imagination that goes into the creation of worlds, creatures and cultures, we like our stories about the strange told to us in pretty much the same fashion that stories about our everyday world are told. When we open up a science fiction novel, we can pretty much assume that we'll find the language used to tell the story familiar, that there will be characters we can identify, if not identify with, that the structures of the novel will not be significantly different from the structures used to create novels two hundred years ago.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Novels are, after all, simply words on a page. But those words can stand a lot of twisting, and still come together to form a recognizable novel. It does take someone with a bit more talent -- maybe more than the average reader is ready and willing to appreciate to take a truly imaginative approach to the novel. James Joyce did it in Finnegan's Wake. We're still talking about it now, scratching our heads in the presence of obvious but perhaps not accessible genius.
John Clute's 'Appleseed' sticks out like a sore thumb in the landscape of the average science fiction novel. In fact, it sticks out like a sore thumb in the landscape of just about any novel, even the weirder science fictional works. Clute is one of the most respected critics specializing in the science fiction field. 'Appleseed' answers the question "Once you've written the encyclopedia, what do you do for an encore?"
Apparently, what you do is write a book that is so damn brilliant, so funny, so mind-manglingly weird that most people won't know whether they're reading a novel or experiencing the onset of a mental illness. It's that weird. When Jules Verne first set pen to paper, he might have imagined that people of the 23rd century would still write novels. He also might have reasonably thought that they would be barely comprehensible to someone of his century. 'Appleseed' is something like a 23rd century novel sent back to blow away the denizens of the 21st century. Packed in its tiny 337 pages are enough ideas and images and neologisms to fuel about four hundred space opera trilogies. What Clute gives you in those pages is to space opera what a space ship is to a canoe. Both get you somewhere, but Clute takes you places you could never go in space, using tools that are unimaginable to most space opera novelists
It's true that 'Appleseed' takes a bit of an effort to read. But if you're the type of person who likes double-strength espresso, then this is definitely your cup of coffee. Nathanael Freer is the captain of the ship Tile Dance, asked to transport a shipment from one planet to another. Of course, his shipment is not what it seems to be, and it's connected to a galaxy spanning data plague. It leads him and the reader to what are surely the most alien creatures ever captured using words of the English language. Well, some of them are words in the English language, and the rest will probably officially join the language at some time or another.
Clute is wise enough to leaven his rather heady novel with ample doses of humor. One of the main targets of his humor is human sex, which he portrays in a unique and original fashion. But then, that's to be expected. This book is pretty much ALL NEW. It is ALL GOOD. It may not be the novel for ALL PEOPLE, but it should be. It probably will be, in say, thirty, fifty, a hundred years. We can only hope that by then there will be quite a few more novels from this fascinating author.