Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: The Green Storm, by Bud Santora

There are some very creative and original ideas in this sci-fi/fantasy novel. I would classify it more as sci-fi than fantasy, because the author seeks to provide a real world, pseudo-scientific explanation for the strange events that occur in the story. This is very much our world, without magical elements.

The story is told in two main streams, a present day stream, in which we find the Guillory family and their close associates living in their island home off the New England coast, and a past stream, beginning in the early part of the twentieth century, telling of their forebears. This latter stream tells of William Guillory and his family and the founding of a carnival on the island, with the aid of Pompey Wright and his carnival troupe and family. We learn of the tragedy that strikes William’s family, and of the friendships and even romances that develop among these people. There are some lovely, warm, romantic touches in the human element of this story. This stream of the story is also peppered with delightfully eccentric minor characters. The era is recreated beautifully. The contemporary story tells of strange meteorological events occurring, of the strange transformation taking place on the planet, and their effect on William’s present day descendants, Mike and his family. I did not become as attached to these people, although the family dogs are endearing. At times, the story is told from their point of view (you will understand how and why when you read the book). The descriptions of the transformation taking place in the world, and of the creatures populating this new eco-system, are carried out with considerable imagination and flair. The author was able to paint a very vivid picture. The scenario also has a certain internal plausibility, given the parameters.

About the sci-fi element of the plot I cannot say too much without giving the plot away. However, I will say that it is here that I find the main flaw in the novel. The plot involves an underwater civilisation of merfolk. This is not giving too much away, since it can be read in the blurb about the paperback edition. However, there are, in my mind, two sci-fi plots here, the second of which ultimately subsumes the first and makes this first plot virtually irrelevant. This second sci-fi plot, introduced in Chapter 27, is sufficient to account for the events that occur in the present, without any reference at all to the earlier events. It would be possible to read the present day events, plus Chapter 27, without any need at all to refer to these earlier events. What occurs to William’s wife Emily and other members of his family has no connection with what later happens to Mike and his family. The fate of these earlier characters is also dealt with rather callously. Others may disagree with this interpretation of the plot, or may be prepared to overlook this perceived discontinuity.

I’m not sure why the author decided to structure the sci-fi plot in this way. In my opinion, the story would have worked perfectly well with just one of these two plots. The future events could easily have been made to occur without the event described in Chapter 27, based just on what had happened prior to this. Alternatively, the events in Chapter 27 could have been made to predate the story. Both of these options would have also made it possible to deal with the earlier characters more kindly, and create a stronger emotional link between the characters of the past and those of the present. I could envisage a meeting between Mike and his great grandmother, Emily... I see this as a missed opportunity.

I have a few other minor issues. At times the author has to resort to an omniscient ‘Orson Welles’ type narration to tell the story of the transformation of the world. This doesn’t quite work for me. Otherwise the point of view tends to jump around from character to character even within a single chapter, and the writing would have benefited from more discipline and control. The author also sometimes resorts to dialogue between characters to impart information to the reader, which makes these conversations awkward and unnatural. There are also a couple of anachronisms in the early narrative stream: while both radio and telephone had been invented by 1919, the island was extremely unlikely to have a telephone line, and radio did not begin widespread broadcasting as early as this. Finally, vinyl wasn’t in use for making records until much later.

For the originality of the plot(s), for the vividness with which this new world is created, and for the warm, romantic elements of the earlier narrative, I give this book three stars.

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