6000 Pages 2011, Falling Sideways – Tom Holt (pages 6590-6960)


Frogs eh? Frogs are hilarious aren’t they? I mean you’re probably giggling already because I’ve written the word ‘frogs’ in the first two (now three!) sentences. Plus look! there’s one in the picture.

No?

OK. Let’s start again and I’ll try to restrain the sarcasm.

After enjoying Expecting Someone Taller again I thought about the possibility of reading another Tom Holt. As I said I read Taller back when it came out and the next two after that. I didn’t enjoy those as much and decided he was not for me and stuck with Pratchett. I was vaguely aware that he was still steadily producing books but was a little aghast to discover quite how many – 30 in fact. So I was spoilt for choice.

Browsing through Goodreads and Amazon at the reviews and descriptions I came across Falling Sideways from 2002 which seemed quirky and obviously had a romantic element which is probably the main thing I enjoyed about Taller. So frog on the cover notwithstanding I took a chance.

(btw in case you’re wondering I didn’t decide to read two Tom Holts in a row. After Taller I started another book, which I stalled on so I switched to Falling Sideways as a lighter read. I will go back to that book after I finish the book I started after Falling.)

It’s funny that I started reading this book during what should have been Nanowrimo (I mean it still is but not for me, not any more) because it reads like a bad cliche of what a Nano novel is like – like someone sat down and just wrote and every time they ran out of ideas or hit a plot wall they just wrote themselves out of it by inventing something strange and bizarre no matter how inconsistent or convoluted.

Of course it can’t have been a Nano novel because a) I don’t think it was going in 2002 (if it was it wasn’t an internet phenomenon yet) and b) Holt was a published author with a dozen and a half books under his belt already. So maybe he had a deadline, or maybe he just wanted to try freewheeling or maybe he really really thought it was a different and better way to go. (For all I know this is typical of his later books and his fans love it).

I’m getting ahead of myself, what’s it about?

David Perkins is a single, early 30s computer nerd who lives alone and works from home. And he is head over heels in unrequited love with a beautiful woman. The only problem is she died 400 years ago and he’s actually in love with a painting. However, never fear because after purchasing a lock of her hair for a ridiculous sum at an auction he pays a visit to “Honest John’s House of Clones”… and a madcap adventure ensues involving clones, gods, intergalactic space travel and frogs, lots of frogs.

The big problem with Falling Sideways is that the basic structure is this – a little bit of setup, some running around with people being chased and fearing for their life/safety/freedom then a pause with a long expository conversation explaining how everything you know so far fits together THEN repeat but when you get to the next exposition reveal how most of the earlier explanation wasn’t what you thought it was because it was a) not real and b) an attempt to manipulate the characters into a particular position or frame of mind (as in “you had to think you were on a spaceship and in danger of alien vivisection so that you’d do so-and-so”). Once or twice this would be fine. When this has happened four or five times and you’re only 2/3rds of the way through the book you realise that this is the book’s thing, its theme or motif if I were being charitable.

Normally when I start to feel I’m losing the plot with a book I worry because I feel it’s up to me to keep up. I’ll check back to earlier sections and try to figure it out. Here I knew it was all just part of the ride and in any case trying to understand the current situation was pointless when some major part of it would turn out to have been unreal or not what it appeared to be.

So yes it had plausibility issues down in the details of the story – the idea that a clone would inherit the memories of its progenitor for example – but you know me, these sorts of things don’t usually worry me, though a little techno-babble explanation to cover it would have been nice. However it’s at the grand scale that it lost me. I didn’t really care enough about the characters – didn’t really get a chance to know them that well – and there were amusing lines but I didn’t find most of the running around sections funny. It was an easy read and so it added to my page count relatively painlessly, that’s a plus I guess.

Actually I will just mention one plausibility detail thing. David’s attitude and behaviour towards computers is wrong. I speak as a real-life Tech Support person of many years standing. David comes across as a non-technical computer user’s view of a computer expert. Yes we are just as frustrated and annoyed by these things when they go wrong, but what looks like random thrashing around and changing things til it works actually isn’t. We narrow down the problem – not printing? is the cable plugged in? is it all applications or just this one that won’t print? has it never actually worked or did it only start happening after you installed that new toolbar? – so even if we can’t tell you precisely why it went wrong every time we know why we did what we did at each stage.

It’s like on House or one of those other Doctor shows – you look at the evidence, come up with a theory and treat based on that, if it doesn’t work you take the outcome as further evidence, run tests maybe and make a new theory. Of course being computers and not human bodies it’s usually less messy. But the principle is very similar. In particular things like if the patient has a fever then you know treatments that will reduce a fever even if you don’t know yet what caused it.

OK, sorry, that rant got away from me a bit. To be fair David’s no worse than a lot of computer people portrayals in fiction, and better than a lot. Still it’s a sign of how disengaged I was that I was able to worry about this stuff.

5/10 – a fun read IF you find frogs inherently funny.

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About shuggie

My name is Shuggie, Paul or LatePaul depending on where you know me from. I work in computers (databases) and occasionally write about softw
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