Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Raw Shark Texts

Eric Sanderson wakes up with no memory of who he is -- all he has is a note from himself telling him to contact Dr. Randle, who tells him that his memory loss stems from a severe associative disorder caused by the loss of his love, Clio. Over the course of many months, he receives numerous letters and packages from his earlier self, the First Eric Sanderson, in an attempt to explain what is going on, and what he needs to do to first protect himself and then defeat his enemy. As for what his enemy is, it's a concept fish, the most deadly of them all, the Ludovician. The Ludovician keeps attacking its prey, devouring its memories and sense of self. As for concept fish generally, they're entities that evolved naturally as the result of human communications.

In his attempt to survive, and to face down his deadly foe, Sanderson seeks out un-Space, where he hopes to find Trey Fidorous, someone who aided the First Eric Sanderson, and who is considered an expert on concept fish. His quest is greatly aided when a young woman named Scout rescues him from danger, and agrees to help him find Trey. That Scout reminds him of what he knows of Clio serves to both arouse and confuse him.

I find the notion of concept fish, along with the associated power of words and ideas, quite clever. For example, Eric is able to camouflage his thoughts from the Ludovician by putting four dictaphones in the corners of a room, each playing a recording of a wholly unrelated individual going about his/her business during a day.

Other than concept fish, however, I found the story rather unoriginal, constantly reminding me of other stories. First there's the obvious Memento concept of someone's earlier self assisting his memoryless present self. In addition, there are two books I very much enjoyed, Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, and William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop. Like Neverwhere, The Raw Shark Texts introduces us to a world beneath the "real world," whose existence the real world doesn't seem to recognize, together with a guide/love interest to show the clueless protagonist that under-world. And like the protagonist in Zod Wallop, Eric Sanderson's difficulty in dealing with loss results in his willingness to change reality in order to bring back the person he lost. Finally, the hunt for the Ludovician is ridiculously close to the shark hunt in Jaws, from the captain's underestimation of the shark to the details of the final battle.

As much as I got caught up in reading Steven Hall's novel, in the end it disappointed me. Much of the writing is nothing special, with the dialogue between Eric and Scout being particularly weak. I was also particularly bothered by the final scene's virtual theft of Jaws. In addition, Scout's nemesis, an entity central to Eric's efforts to defeat the Ludovician, is hardly real -- all it is is the "anti-matter to the Ludovician's matter," a weapon for Eric rather than a serious threat after a single early encounter. It's not even clear why the two entities would destroy each other should they intersect. And lastly is the Scout/Clio connection. How Hall resolved it seems too pat, too movielike, a perception aided by the knowledge that the movie rights to the book were sold before the book itself was released.

In sum, I think this is worth reading for the world it creates, but it didn't "wow" me.
Rating: 7/10.