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Light on Shattered Water

AuthorGreg Howell Entered2001-11-28 22:35:43 by christineindigo
Editedit data record FreedomCopyrighted, doesn't cost money to read, but otherwise not free (disclaimer)
SubjectP. - Language and Literature
This link was reported to be OK by user Ben Crowell on 2004-10-27 21:21:04
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Light on Shattered Water by Greg Howell - Comments
by William J. Darr on 2007-05-24 20:41:51, review #496
better than 80%
This book, available only on the Web so far as I know, is much more than I expected. While the MacGuffin initiating the conflict is old and well-used, it does not detract from the story; in fact, it immediately declares the problem and activates the reader's need for a solution. The book itself would not be much more than entertaining, were it not for the writing. In an era when descriptive passages are largely rudimentary, sacrificed to the attention span of the reader, or else so poorly crafted that one is embarrassed to read them, this book was a source of pleasure in that regard. The author is clearly an artist (his website offers some of his art, probably taken from storyboards that he may have done and subsequently fleshed in), and his descriptions are economical and beautifully integrated with the story-telling. Howell does not seem to "work at" his descriptives; they just seem to flow from his natural perception of form and color. I found myself welcoming the pictures that they evoked, rather than skipping over any part of them, because they were complete yet parsimonious. As to the plot and subplots, I found them not only entertaining but thoughtful. In particular, the differences in psychology and perception between the protagonist, Michael Riley, and the Rris - the intelligent felids that are the dominant intelligence on this alternative-future version of Earth - are penetrating and maintain tension rather than becoming plot-bogging cliches. There are sufficient twists (and a couple of major surprises) to satisfy the "aha" reflex, and even some tastefully-written sexual scenes. I should also mention that Howell did his homework regarding the correct physics and engineering involved in the technology transfer between Riley and the lagging Rris civilization. Howell's asides describing the species-based differences in visual perception also seemed accurate and thoughtful. The one problem the I had with the book, that probably prevented it from transcending its web-based readership, was the ubiquity of a second MacGuffin: the laptop computer that is transmitted with Michael to the Rris world, and its encyclopedic contents. Not that its contents are unusual for a laptop, but that the engine of the plot depends so much upon those contents. A MacGuffin should never compete with the plot. If one were to rewrite the tale (and it is worth rewriting), one might explore ways that the protagonist might simply be familiar with most of the technology and culture, without needing the laptop. This is not as unusual as it might seem: there are such people in my own circle of friends. Further, the story as written already contains an extremely apt Rris technological genius who could be the pump of the technology transfer with Michael as the primer. The interaction between the two, though already significant in the story, could be richer and serve additional counterpoint. But this criticism is probably unfair: even some of Heinlein's stories demand multiple acts of reality suspension. I enjoyed the tale so much that I downloaded it to my PDA, and - just for fun - reread it from time to time. Also worth mentioning is the fact that Howell wrote a sequel, "Storms over Open Fields," that is also quite thoughtful though less (except for the descriptive passages) well-written. I suspect that it was published on the web as a second draft, because of some of the editorial errors. It is also now on my PDA because I found Howell's observations regarding the ramifications of an alternate legal structure quite seminal. Even in its draft (?) form, it is well worth reading. It is too bad that (as far as I know) Howell never pursued his writing. His imagination, descriptive skill, and mindset are - at least in my experience - rare.

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