Sunday, 6 March 2011

Last Light: Alex Scarrow

This was a book which I noticed out of the corner of my eye in big format a few years ago, and thought might be interesting, before getting distracted and forgetting about it. I tripped over its existence again a week or so ago when I saw that it had a sequel out; or to be more accurate, I noticed the sequel and realised when I looked it over that it had to be a sequel. With time hanging heavy on my hands in the evenings these days, I thought I'd risk a few hours to see if they were any good, even though I've read Alex Scarrow's first novel, A Thousand Suns, and knew that the odds were seriously against them. The theme looked interesting, and I thought there might be enough in that to overcome the weaknesses in Scarrow's technique when it came to plotting and dialogue and character, and well, writing.

Scarrow has actually improved quite a bit, or I'm getting less fussy. A Thousand Suns is kind of a mess, with a hackneyed master narrative set in WWII and involving "good" Germans doing "bad" things, and a really weak framing plot where a modern journalist trips over traces of the earlier events. For Last Light, Scarrow sticks to the same notion of a high concept narrated out by the experiences of a slate of viewpoint characters, but it hangs together more satisfactorily and his writing's improved a bit. It helps that the high concept's an interesting one and that Scarrow does quite a good job of conveying how bad the aftermath of civil collapse would be be without making it so directly harrowing as to be unpleasant to read.

I fear the worst for the sequel, despite it being the thing which snagged my attention; it's a good deal thicker than the first book and life has taught me that the longer a book is the more room bad writing has to spread out into. But so far Scarrow's doing better than I thought he would, and it's a thought-provoking book. Put to one side the idea that there's some crazy conspiracy to run the world, and just look at the points he's making about the fragility of supply chains and how little time it would take for things to collapse if oils supplies were interrupted. There's a lot in there to worry about; sadly, all we can really do is worry and hope that the people running the show will get a bit more serious about planning for real catastrophe.

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