There has been an incredible amount of talk about authors writing fictional reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, etc. in order to generate interest in their work. I’m completely against this. That said, this week I’m writing one fake review a day and posting it on my site. The first is a review of Pay Me, Bug!, written by Milton Horace Dante Longfellow III, a guy you’ve never heard of because I made him up. Enjoy.
It was with some trepidation that I, your faithful and humble servant, picked up my digital reading device and procured a copy of Pay Me, Bug! It was a trifling sum–a mere three dollars and fifty cents in US currency–but I know full well that the cost of reading fiction can far exceed the mere purchase of a work. Each word leaves its own imprint upon a soul, and of late my soul had been stained with the ink of common, base, trivial works. I had some half-hearted hope that this would be different: its title, while unusual, was at least declarative, and I imagine perhaps a studied treatise on the value of introducing a monetary system to insects in an attempt to civilize them. I have considered such a proposal myself, and thought perhaps this work would address such a topic.
It was, alas, not to be. It appears Pay Me, Bug! is nothing more than science fiction of the basest and most puerile variety: it is “space opera,” an execrable form of entertainment that does not even hold itself to the standards of “science” that the genre pretends, in its most self deceiving moments, to offer as its raison d’etre.
This is, after all, a world where travel through the vast distances of space is easily accomplished by doing something that, by the author’s own admission, completely violates the laws of reality. It acknowledges this, and has the audacity to do so cheerfully, and then never goes back to further justify or explain anything. The cheek the author uses to justify the existence of this world is staggering, because he simply doesn’t. He states that it is so, and the book is so. None of the underpinnings of this society are justified.
All of this might perhaps be forgiven, or at least studiously overlooked, if the author had spent more time on the characterization. It is possible, I suppose, to tell a tale set in the stars that looks beneath the veneer of civilization and peers into the very soul of humanity itself. The use of alien cultures and bizarre worlds can promote the necessary distance required to enable introspection of ideas that are otherwise too close to us, that we are too personally invested in, to put under any great scrutiny. Sadly, the author does not rise to the occasion to create that kind of work. Instead, we are taken on what can only be described (and I apologize to my readers for the use of such vulgar terms) a caper.
The “hero,” if he can be called such, is little more than a con man and a smuggler who also happens to be the captain of a starship. Why the author latched into this tired bailiwick is unknown to me–I suspect in time I could hypothesize but I fear to look too closely into the inner workings of his mind lest I inadvertently lobotomize myself by reducing my intellect to his level. There is always a danger in method acting, and I caution my students of this regularly. Or, as the great philosopher Nietzsche has said, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” I have gazed long into this monstrosity and fear for my soul, therefore, I shall not further abase myself by thinking too deep into the authors motive for writing it.
The “hero” is drawn into a series of events that results in him being strong-armed into stealing something that is never fully explained from a galactic empire. He is forced into this by another galactic empire. Though it is described as “The Alliance of Free Worlds” I believe the genre demands that you have either empires or rebellions only, and since the “Alliance” is not a rebellion it must therefore be an empire. So caught between two empires, the “hero” must steal something in a facility that is, of course, reputed to be impossible to steal from.
What follows is in essence a rehash of Ocean’s Eleven, only without the casino or any of the other elements that made Ocean’s Eleven in any way enjoyable. In short, the “hero” must con and bluster his way through a situation that is impossible, and succeeds only by authorial fiat, which is, quite simply, inexcusable behavior for a new author. Certainly I would expect and even demand something of that from one of the greats, but this mewling pup is not great, or even established. For him to actually allow his characters to defy the odds, well, it shocks the conscience. If the author had, in fact, written a story so close to convention and then turned it on its head, causing the “hero” and his companions to die a miserable, unhappy death, why, then we might have the glimmerings of literature within these electronic pages. Instead we have something that doesn’t even qualify as filler, since there are no physical pages to be had at this point.
Indeed, the only point of interest in the book is the titular Bug, mentioned in the title. I am particularly enamored of its monologues.
Dear reader, I have suffered through this indignity so that you can avoid the pitfalls that a love of literature can bring, and it is my regret to tell you that this is not literature, no, not at all, it is a pitfall that will cause you fall as far from literature as one can fall. It is, I dare say, very much like Dante’s Hell, only there is not one figure who has the terrible resolve of Milton’s Lucifer to make such an existence tolerable. We are, in this work, infinitely removed from the intrinsic joy of words, and I fear it may presently be impossible to return to that joy in any reasonable time.