A struggling science fiction writer makes contact with the telepathic aliens from her latest book. Did she invent the aliens--or did they invent her? Margaret Wander Bonanno is the author of several bestselling Star Trek novels.
The multiple points-of-view, timeline-manipulation and fourth-wall-breaking can work, but not in this book. In fact, I have the distinct impression that the author got her hands on a copy of Diderot's "Jacques the Fatalist" and decided to reprocess some of her half-baked ideas into a similar work. If so, it pales into transparency compared to Diderot brilliant work.
The author's love-hate relationship with her characters (and readers, I think) pushed and pulled me from paragraph to paragraph, and left me cold.
Ray's a jerk, but he's understandably upset -- he's been seeing
jellyfish too. As have most of the characters in the book. It's not
the sort of thing you, um, share with family & friends...
More plot summary than this really isn't going to help --
think "Wine of the Dreamers" meets Phillip K Dick, with all
*kinds* of genre, literary and TV/cinematic references
and in-jokes (I'm pretty dense about picking these up --
you'll likely catch more than I did). In the world of Academic
Lit. this is "self-referential deconstruction" and a Big Deal --
-- but in plain language it's an astonishing juggling act. Round and
round, up & down they go: autobiography, the writer's craft, how
your kids grew up while you weren't looking, Trekkie fangirl turns
pro, midlist writer goes to SF conventions, Hollywood business
deals ("trust me"), exposition by transposing characters to alternate
timelines(!), crystal healing, bilingual puns (the aliens' Linnean
name is S. oteri: sound it out & groan...), a Capt. Kirkish actor who
can't get it up & blames the jellyfish...
"If PRETERNATURAL has a flaw, it is that the reader must be
willing to keep so many balls in the air, trusting that the author
will eventually reveal how each fits into the pattern. Let me
assure you that Ms. Bonanno is worthy of your trust. She makes good
on all her promises, wrestling her puzzle to a satisfying draw..."
-- Gerald Jonas, NY Times, whose excellent review prompted me to
read this book. You should read it too:
(registration required and worthwhile).
The jellyfish are a bit much at times (whine of the dreamers?)
and the ending may be oversweet (though perfectly-fitted
to the cinematic subplot). Hey, nobody's perfect -- but Preternatural
comes pretty darn close.
Ms. Bonanno is the most prolific SF author I'd never heard of -- in
the past 20 years, she's written 2 Star Trek novels, 7 other novels
(some SF/F), and a biography of Angela Lansbury. I'd welcome steers
to other worthwhile MWB books: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I have no idea why PRETERNATURAL has attracted so little
attention. This is a remarkable book, an "audacious act of
imagination that goes far beyond the merely clever. The puzzle that
she poses has to do with the nature of language. Why, in reading
fiction, do we suspend disbelief so totally as to care about the
fate of characters whom we encounter only as sequences of words
on paper? Why do we laugh or cry when the writer manipulates her
word-puppets into a simulacrum of personal growth?"
(G. Jonas, op. cit.)
Don't miss it. Trust me...