Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book Review: _The Raw Shark Texts_ by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. (there are some spoilers here, although just as many as in any reviews on Amazon, so...)

This is not a book about sushi....

At first glance, you flip through the pages and find this section where the pages are blank, and then as you flip, a shark comes out of the page towards you, a shark filled with letters of the book. I thought, "Ok, this is odd." And I really didn't expect too much out of it, since other authors have used tricks of the written page to make up for a lack of coherent plot or character development (see Samuel Delany's Dhalgren, which is tedious and reminds one of a bad drug episode, and that's before the text goes funky.)

I picked up the book because it reminded me of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, where, at the beginning of the tale, a man has come out of a coma to find that he cannot remember the details of his life. An ingenious story, and one that would have really been amazing, had the main character not died in the middle of it.

Steven Hall, however, handles the predicament with more skill than Eco, which is surprising seeing as this is Hall's first novel. The underlying premise is that throughout human development, the world of ideas and communication has spawned the evolution of "data animals." Much like the Digimon of today's cartoons. But these have developed in a manner much like the real animals on Earth, and so by the time of present day man, the Ludovician (shark) is the most advanced creature made up of thoughts and ideas. Each of these animals feed off of the dreams, thoughts, and communications of mankind, from just nibbling on e-mails (and losing them in the data stream, think back when you lost an e-mail, or your research paper suddenly was lost on a floppy disk), to eating memories of human beings (you remember when you lost your keys, and then found them an hour later sitting on your bed?) Eric Sanderson, the main character, has one of these sharks eating on him, and he has to find a way to get rid of it.

there are many other sub-plots and layers in the book, some of which are explained, some are not. The book is definitely a child of the postmodern philosophy, one born of sci-fi suspension and hallucinogenic trips that would be more fit for a part in Kubrick's 2001 or Altered States. But all the while, as it leads you down one strange paper trail after another (literally), everything that happens is within the realm of believability.

One thing I want to point out was the calm and comfort of the first part of the book which is essential to the chaos that ensues. We must all yearn for that state of innocence and paradise, much as Adam did, but like Adam, Eric must have chosen to experience his life as something more than an everyday routine. It was a wonderful part of the book, something I was sorry to see changed as the plot progressed, which was exactly what the author intended.

I personally could have used a little more tying up of loose ends at the end, but I believe that the movie (for he has sold the movie rights to some studio or another) will take that part, at least, and make it all work out. One last thing.... there are parts of the book that really makes me want to visit the Greek Islands. Part travel memoir, part sci-fi book, part taken out of Islands in the Stream by Hemingway (the first part, before he goes to war)., the book was very entertaining, and worth the praise it has received.

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