Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finitude by Hamish MacDonald

Reviewed for The New Podler Review of Books by Libby Cone

In this fast-paced novel, global warming/climate change is a reality and not a topic for debate. Various groups are working out solutions. A Government Coalition is trying to capitalize on the changes in the environment, taking advantage of citizens of other lands for cheap labor, as it readies a project to dim the sun and, at the same time, harness and monopolize solar energy. Other groups, seen as enemies of the Government, have cobbled together various lifestyles aimed at conserving what is left of resources and avoiding the deadly new dangers posed by the environment, including tigers and methane clouds.

Set against this backdrop is one Jeremy Chutter, an insurance agent who realizes the meaninglessness of insurance as his coastal home slowly floods. He is in mourning for his twin sister and his lover, who died in an automobile accident with Jeremy at the wheel. This understandably causes him to focus on himself and his own needs to the exclusion of most others, except his parents. After learning from his meteorologist friend “Des” Despendra that bundling his folks off (on the airline industry's “Last Flights Day”) to the region of Iktyault may have put them in danger, he strikes out with her and new friend Victor, an ecotravel agent, to rescue them from environmental disaster.

The prose is witty and the futuristic touches are amusing: Jeremy subscribes to a service called “Tinfoil Hat” that blocks out aggressive advertising. Everyone consumes a processed food called “Mete®,” the source of which turns out to be only a little less ghastly than that of Soylent Green.

The journey is compelling but the editing is poor. MacDonald is inordinately fond of the word “leapt,” using it in some cases three times on one page. In a society where auto accidents still occur, huge ships are described as zipping about and parking like MiniCoopers: “...the Prime Minister turned and gestured at the vast ship pulling up to a stop in the harbour behind him...” “...A grey ship the size of a building rumbled past, making the little rescue-dinghy wobble dangerously... the grey ship docked, extending a ramp down from its front...” I think there are pilots and towboats involved when these behemoths come into port. The sun, too, performs some neat tricks: “The sun was lowering behind them, sending shafts of golden light filtering down the streets, turning every color into a perfected version of itself.” That is all well and good, but a few pages later: “The rising sun leached the colour out of the scenery.” I thought the rising and setting sun always looked more golden, giving us the term “the magic hour”?

Jeremy finds new love with a kind and brave truck driver, and Victor early on with Despendra, and each becomes more attuned to the needs of others in the process. As they wander the polluted landscape, the awkward sentences become obstacles akin to the rocks, ice, and tigers in the narrative. But unlike the fish that are going extinct, this book can be saved by more editing.

For more information, please visit the author's website.

5 comments:

Hamish MacDonald said...

Thank you for reading the novel.

For an alternative take on the book, readers may also want to see the Taipei Times' review.

dan said...

It's good of course to get all points of view and I enjoyed reading this review too, but for me, way over here in Taiwan, I absolutely LOVED the book from opening chapter to the final ending, and I hope there is a sequel, because for me, this book is about the future of climate chaos when people really will facing such lives.....and my polar cities project found a lot in this book to keep us going....it's not a pretty subject, but it's the reality that the human species just might have to confront...come 2500 AD or so......I give this book ten stars out of ten and I call the author the new Douglas Adams of the UK...... but of course, every reader will come to this book, and leave it, from their own individual POV and that what makes this world so interesting....

dan said...

The reviewer wrote: "The prose is witty and the futuristic touches are amusing: Jeremy subscribes to a service called “Tinfoil Hat” that blocks out aggressive advertising. Everyone consumes a processed food called “Mete®,” the source of which turns out to be only a little less ghastly than that of Soylent Green."

Yes, the book has many touches like this. And yes, every independently published book needs an editor, and your points about the book could have benefitted from more editing, and maybe an independent editor is good constructive criticism, and when this book gets picked up by a major publisher for a global rollout I am sure some small touches of line editing will help it out. But we cannot fault the author for this. His job is to write a book, and this Mr MacDonald has done and done superbly and tackled a subject with a novel that very few have attempted yet, and in my opion, this book is even more important than Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, which is also a great read and won a Pulitzer in 2007. I predict that FINITUDE will find its audience worldwide in several languages and become a widely-seen movie by 2015. It's that good, and that's vital. The very existence of the human species is at stake here. But yes, some editing would help the book, good point sir. Wait for the next edition, and best of all, wait for the movie. I see Danny Boyle directing, with James Lovelock making a cameo appearance.

DED said...

I am sure some small touches of line editing will help it out. But we cannot fault the author for this. His job is to write a book,

I'm sorry, but I disagree on this point. If you're an author who has chosen to go the indie route, it is necessary to take on the other roles, or hire people to do them, that traditional publishers handle. Cover art, marketing, and manuscript editing are all important. I think it's self-deluding to think that any one of those responsibilities can be shrugged off. From what I can see, Mr. MacDonald has covered the first two. Once he finds an editor, he should be all set. :)

dan said...

good point, DED.