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    Virtually Unreadable Disaster

    Brian W. Aldiss has stated that Finches of Mars is his final science fiction novel, and all I can say is, "Thank God!" He was named a Grand Master of Science Fiction in 1999; while his earlier work (none of which I have read) may be stellar, he is now, at 90, clearly resting on his laurels because Finches of Mars is a disjointed and virtually unreadable disaster. I probably should have paid closer attention to the book's description on NetGalley before requesting an ARC. The publisher states that it is "[a] novel of philosophy as much as science fiction," and that is exactly how it comes across: as a random series of philosophical musings with no real plot and little connection beyond the same cast of cold and boring characters. As to the first point (randomness), consider this passage: "He got up to make for Kinshasa, and work, and study. His nose was still bleeding. Food rations were getting smaller, but they had no worries about water shortages; or rather, they had not thought to worry about its running out: soundings had shown that the cavern containing the subterranean water was vast." Given the absence of any transition whatsoever between these two paragraphs, one might be forgiven for believing that both the bleeding nose and the food shortage occurred at the same time in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yet the concluding reference to a cavern of subterranean water abruptly notifies the reader that we are now on Mars, miles and years away from the blow Rasir received from his uncle. As to the second point (unbelievable characters), upon returning from an expedition during which they discovered possible evidence of a previous life form on Mars's surface, the colonists' first priority is not to engage in scientific analysis, but to argue over what word they should use for "the new emotion many of them experienced on this occasion when walking on Mars. Eventually they decided to adopt metanipoko. An intensity of regret and delight. Stroy ventured to suggest selbsthilfloszwang. It was considered but not adopted. . . . Several people came up to Stroy after the meeting to say they regretted her new word had not been adopted." Seriously? If all conversations on Mars were this trivial, no wonder some of the universities supporting the colony withdrew their funding, leading to the smaller food rations which concerned Rasir two chapters earlier. Or what about this conversation between a doctor and her dying patient: "She held his hand, regarding him gravely. "Are we in some way a dream of the cosmos? Although it goes against my profession, I mean the profession of healing, I sometimes find myself inclining to a belief that we are insubstantial beings. He blinked at her, acknowledging that indeed he was a prime example of an insubstantial being." I suspect the patient's blink was not an acknowledgement of his insubstantiality, but an indication of his perplexity over the identity of the nut holding his hand. Aldiss fans may want to read Finches of Mars for completeness; those looking for a good story with relatable characters should go elsewhere. I received a free copy of Finches of Mars through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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