Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book Review: Atom by Steve Aylett

This is the third book I've read by Steve Aylett, the first two being (in order) Slaughtermatic and Gothic Hall. Both of these are personal favorites of mine, which I eagerly force upon unsuspecting friends and family whenever possible. Compared to these two, however, his newest novel Atom falls short.

Now, this isn't a bad book, not in the least. The basic premise is that of a retelling of The Maltese Falcon in the future-cyber-surreal city of Beerlight, except that the mysterious object everyone scrambles after is not a black statue, but Franz Kafka's brain. That alone should give you an idea of the lengths of madness traveled, and Aylett does so with his gifted ability to throw unforgettable one-liners and curt descriptions at you until you're bruised and bleeding and begging for more. For this the novel is not lacking.

My only real problem was the lack of depth achieved. The characters (including our hero, Taffy Atom) run around only half defined and barely memorable as individuals. And the storyline felt thrown together, as merely an excuse to throw around the players. That's not always a bad thing, mind you, but Aylett is capable of so much more, and has proven it in the past. Slaughtermatic (which was only 20 pages longer) not only felt real and drew you into the bizarre and complex storyline and characters, but he even succeeded in drawing out the individual personalities of two people who were essentially the same person!

So, as I said, I'm not saying this is a bad book. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it to others, although new readers of his may want to try the other two titles I mentioned first. It is simply not his best. But here's to hoping it is his worst.
Reviewed by S. Michael Wilson

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