(St Martins, 323 pages, hardback, 2001, ISBN: 0-312-26652-9.)
all be this
bad. I was wrong. Let's see if I can convey the fascinating awfulness
of this earnest, well-intentioned, and very, very bad novel....
is the worst novel that I've actually finished in years. I kept reading
(then skimming) thinking, I guess, that it can't
In a nutshell, Earth's entire population has just been destroyed by
the impact of a large comet -- except for a cruise ship full of engineers,
and a few thousand inhabitants of nearby South Africa. After a few chapters
of graceless scene-setting, the engineers settle down to rebuild civilization.
They move ashore and build a new town, called, by popular vote, "Engineering
Village". They appoint committees and subcommittees for each phase of
their Grand Plan, and each distinguished engineer is given page after
page to info-dump . Whenever a question arises,
a well-qualified historian, mining engineer or Army officer springs
to life, info-dump at hand. Florman's done his research, and by God
he's not going to waste any of it. Do I need to add that there are no
real characters here?
Now, I (and most hard-SF readers) have a pretty high tolerance for
literary awkwardness, especially when the author is a technical guy.
But there are limits. For me, they were reached when the Bad Guys surface.
Florman realizes he needs a little dramatic tension, and imagines a
raid by pirates from Madagascar. They are led by their fearsome Pirate
Queen, Mary Anne Appleton of Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Perhaps you are thinking, at this point, that, hey, an African pirate
queen from New Jersey could be pretty cool.... Maybe naming the town
"Engineering Village" is, I dunno, some kind of satire? Nope. These
(and many more!) are all written in earnest. Dead earnest. Deadly, soggy,
dogged, dull (but earnest!) prose, pages and pages of it. Such moments
of horrified fascination kept me reading (or at least skimming) on into
this slow-motion literary train-wreck. So you may want to borrow a library
copy, just to see how far wrong a respected writer can go in his first
novel. No better inspiration for a beginning novelist could be imagined,
than that The Aftermath could actually be published, in hardcover,
by a reputable house. Yes, you can do better than this! Florman,
a civil engineer, has written several well-received popular non-fiction
books about engineering. The best-known is The Existential Pleasures
of Engineering, which I recall enjoying, years ago....
Mr. Florman, I'm truly sorry to be so hard on your novel, which I was
looking forward to reading. Engineers rebuild the world! Neat. But,
frankly, it stinks. I think you should stick to nonfiction in the future.
Florman's novel got some pretty good notices, amazingly enough, including
this one I saw in the NY Times
that led me to pick it up. I should have looked at Amazon first, where
it gets such reader's reviews
as "Buy this for any engineer you strongly dislike."
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