Blindfold by Kevin J Anderson
(HarperCollins Voyager, £5.99, 377 pages, paperback; published 4 May 1999.)
Kevin Anderson is in a bit of a cleft stick, really. There he is, on a nice little earner writing media tie-ins (particularly for Star Wars and The X Files), but to gain any credibility in the SF market as a whole, he needs to produce original work. Anderson may have laboured long and hard in the satanic mills of the media empires, pumping up the profits on particular product lines, but it doesn't necessarily mean he's really learned how to write a convincing work of science fiction. I wouldn't want to go on record as saying that Blindfold is a bad book, because it isn't. But it isn't a good book either.
Where Anderson succeeds is in imagination. The storyline ain't bad, the detailing is quite good, pacing is well up to standard. In putting together a story about a human colony on a planet still in the process of being tamed, Anderson succeeds in constructing a viable basis for his tale.
Unfortunately, he then peoples it with a bunch of innocent fools set against a megalomaniac bad guy. The good guys are, pretty much without exception, nonentities on the page. They behave in naive ways, making it easy for the supposed mastermind to manipulate them.
The villain, supposedly behaving in Machievellian ways, is actually quite transparent to the reader, and it is so obvious how he will be tripped up in the end that you almost start losing patience with the heroes for being thickos before the story has really lifted off.
It's as if Anderson, used to the constraints of characters who are known to his readers via films or TV series, hasn't learned how to work up characters into people that live in the reader's imagination. Maybe it's the curse of the media book writer -- write within the bible of the series, but don't develop the characters, because they must remain the same at the end so as not to clash with the main product. Know your place, in other words.
Blindfold is an easy enough read, with an undemanding plot. It just doesn't have any kind of buzz to it, any sense of pushing at limits, at being wildly original. It doesn't get the imaginative juices flowing in the brain, and so it sells itself, and the SF genre, short.
Maybe I'm being too hard on Anderson. Maybe Blindfold is just the kind of book that helps a young reader graduate from media tie-ins to 'proper' SF, led along by a familiar name. Trouble is, that reader might be left with the idea that SF is all as flawed and obvious as this book is, which does no one in the field any favours.
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© John D Owen 12 June 1999