Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Robert Kroese: Mercury Falls

In a moment of clarity, I held back from buying the whole Mercury trilogy just in case it turned out like a lot of other trilogies I've bought sight unseen. I may finally be learning.

Mercury Falls isn't a bad book, by which I mean I had no real problem getting to the end of it. But it's not a particularly good book either, because I'm not that bothered to see what happens next to the quirky cast of characters.

Comedy is hard. It's easy enough to be funny for a few moments in a rattled off email or a pub conversation. People are ready to laugh; they know you, you're a funny guy, if only because there's a lot of stuff about people that's best dealt with if we all pretend it's funny. Making total strangers laugh; hard. Making total strangers laugh when they're sitting on their own with a book? I can't dependably make myself laugh writing this blog, let alone sustain something funny to book length. So I don't diss Kroese for not making me laugh as much as I hoped I would; that stuff ain't easy. But it's one thing to know something's hard to do and another thing to let it pass when it doesn't pay off.

Going on the product description on that there intarnet, Mercury Falls seemed like it was worth a punt. A tongue in cheek book about the apocalypse with a renegade angel wisecracking his way through the mayhem and saving the world for his own inscrutable reasons? Well, if the writer could hit the tone right, that sounded like it could be fun. There was a fun tongue in cheek mock interview between the writer and his characters which suggested that Kroese had the ear to handle the wisecracks. 

It might could be that Kroese hits his stride in the sequels and I'm cutting myself off unnecessarily from some fun, but I got a stack of books which I pretty much know will be somewhat better and a finite amount of time, so I'm going to leave that gamble for later.

The real problem is that Kroese can write, but he can't do wisecracking quirk as well as he needs to. He has a good dry deadpan style for description, but the dryness undercuts a story that cries out for a lot more comic hyperbole. The other problem is that all his villains are office drones reimagined as part of the infinite bureaucracy of heaven and hell. Office drones are supposed to be tedious; the challenge is to do justice to that without being tedious yourself. Pretty much his only weapon in that war is Mercury, and Mercury isn't carrying enough water to make that work. Partly I think that's because Kroese is trying not to let his title character run away with the whole story, which is the kind of advice you get when you're trying to write in a structured environment. It's good advice, but it's predicated on the idea that when you hold back the rampaging monster, you've got something else to put into play which will be equally diverting. 

The notion of the otherworld as a frozen bureaucracy has been done, a lot, in both book and film, and there's a touch which can make it work. The last thing I read which made it work was the first Johannes Cabal book, which opens up with a trip to hell and isn't afraid to let the title character do the heavy lifting. Bureaucracy is all about the boredom, and you need to open the jumbo-size can of crazy to counter it - and you can't just tell us that life is tedious in the bureaucracy; make it real for the reader. Subject your character to the actual forms (somehow that never gets old, even though it should). 

As to the plot; well it's the old massive collision of unstoppable armies undercut by the fakeroo where no-one really knows who's working for whom or who the guy behind the curtain might be. Since I was reading it in the hope of getting skyscraper sized snowmen and ping pong games, every time we got back to the plot I sighed and started hoping this bit wouldn't take too long. It's a fierce complicated plot, and Kroese actually seems to know quite a lot about real eschatology. (Go on, look it up; I don't get a chance to use that word very often). It's just that when all that kind of thing ought be getting wrapped up fast and whimsical, Kroese gives us dry, grammatical and factual. I bet his software is really well documented.

Heaven help us, Kroese's biggest sin may simply have been to bring too much brain to work, not something I usually need to complain about.

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