Thursday, April 5, 2012

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

You ever met a person on a date and there was nothing really wrong with them but the conversation never really sparked? Like, the conversation was pleasant and they were attractive and they laughed at your jokes, but a day or so later you look at your cell phone, consider texting them, and go "meh"?

That was my relationship with Relic.

I don't get along well with science.

I really wish I did. I champion reason and logic over superstition and servitude, I love when Neil deGrasse Tyson shows up on The Daily Show, and I have worked in the tech industry for years. You'd think I'd be better at this stuff but when anyone tries to explain anything math or science-y my brain takes a little ADHD journey to the magical land of unicorns and rainbows, where my poet's soul traipses through fields of gilly flowers and there are no scaaaaaary numbers.

Oh hell, I might as well post the whole damned Patton Oswalt bit.

So I wasn't really ready for the whole techno-thriller explosion of the 90s. I did read and love Jurassic Park but that novel had dinosaurs. DINOSAURS! Otherwise, all the books pretty much read the same. There are pages and pages of some expert explaining shit to me, a bunch of non-characters reinforcing whatever the expert explained, some one-off chapters of a dumb ass security guard getting slaughtered, and a bunch of interesting but over-explained action scenes at the end of the novel.

People I know who love science stuff love this book. One of them recommended it to me when we were teenagers (hi, Erica) and I really liked it then, but I couldn't quite seem to get back into it. If it's the sort of book that's right for you, have at it. It's not really my scene.

I did like the bit in the Amazon with all the adventure-scientist cliches. And I loved how ridiculous Agent Pendergast was. He's goddamned clown shoes. I kept forgetting that he was from the Deep South and probably talks like Andy Bernard doing a Southern Accent, because with his highly mannered turn of phrase and unflappability it read like he was one of those stick-in-the-butt British detectives. "I daresay, a lizardman is eating my brain! What a sticky wicket!" Also, he's a goddamned ex-Green Beret! EVERY HERO IN BOOKS IS GODDAMNED SPECIAL FORCES! Is the only career options for former special forces soldiers to star in trashy novels? Romance novels get Navy SEALS and thrillers get Rambo. What ever happened to the poor, unloved infantry? Don't they get cool stories? Or in the wonderful world of fiction everyone who joins the military become forced to take a turn sniping Somali pirates from the back of a Navy ship?

I say this with love. Pendergast and his sidekick D'Agosta were the best parts of the book. They defied authority, strove to protect people, and were fun to watch bumble around failing to find anything.

For all the science in the book, the logic ultimately falls short.

There's a killer in your museum and you continue with the opening? No.

You hire a guy to write a book and you get anal about the very, very minor indiscretions he finds? No.

I'm getting better at spotting the mechanics behind constructing a story and I know when roadblocks are artificially laid down to add conflict to the story. The amount of hostility that the characters encountered from their superiors seemed inflated and artificial. I get that careers are in jeopardy, but there's something in the museum eating people's brains. Come on!

Good story, not my thing.

Also, kothoga is a better name for the monster and Mbwun is a better name for the tribe.


Cin Ferguson said...

Fun post, Creature-man, though I loved much of the real science but agreed the pages of anthropology explanations could have done with some chopping. I liked your name switch for the tribe and the monster. Interesting. If you feel inclined, you too can own your own Relic monster: Enjoy! :)

Jim said...

I listen to Audiobooks and got spoiled with an action series - I then tried 3 books that I just could not finish (only happened once before with me - and I listen a lot).

Anyway, I am about half way through with Relic and will definitely finish. I was curious if the Kothoga & Mbwun were not fiction - as in the authors came across them in their research. I then found this review. I kind of agree with you, but I look forward to finishing. I have also found out there are more Pendergast books. I will also give these a try.

I do agree with your assessment about the two names (they should be switch). Oh, and there is a series where the protagonist was just a grunt in the Army, well, a tunnel rat - Harry Bosch...

Christopher Shearer said...

There's a story in the book THRILLERS where they go fishing. That's clownshoes. I didn't have a problem with the talking or "artificial" roadblocks, because in my "academic publishing" world, little things like that are huge. But the opening, yeah, that probably wouldn't have happened.

J.L. Benet said...

I like Pendergast, but I don't think Preston and Child had really fleshed him out in this book. He really comes into his own in later novels. In this one, he could easily have been combined with another character, as he seems superfluous. This appears to be the screenwriters opinion as well as he doesn't appear in the film version. I had some issues with the logic problems as well. Going ahead with the opening felt way to much like what the writers needed to happen and not what the characters would have actually done. Many of the characters felt like cardboard cutouts. I didn't feel for them, and after a while they just became a sea of names.

C. R. Langille said...

I’m with you, I loved Pendergast. For some reason I really pictured him as the FBI agent from Boondock Saints, even though I know their accents and appearance don’t really jive, I think their actions do. As for the rest of the story, cliché and didn’t really make sense. I agree that there was no way that the opening would have gone on if there were that many killings happening in the museum, and there was the slightest chance at all that they suspected the killer to still be on premises.

Jeff Brooks said...

I definitely skipped the pages of data reads. Science is not my forte. I've gotta agree that Pendergast and D'Agosta were probably the best parts of the book. I more-or-less enjoyed the book overall. I did find a lot of the plot to be pretty obvious. Like when they, for some reason, keep the Superstition opening on schedule and when Pendergast gets taken off the case. And after the long explanation as to how awesome the security system is. Everything will go wrong, obviously. Obviously New FBI guy will suck. And the 3 museum jerks who we all hate because their characters are mean only to be mean will of course run off on their own, and all die (except for that one, damnit). Even though I haven't read much like this before, I still felt like I knew the story was was just going through the motions of reading it. That being said, I did enjoy it.

R. D. DeMoss said...

Although I've never been on a date like you refer to because I don't really date, I do understand how you feel about this book. I wanted to enjoy it, I couldn't really say I hated anything about it, but it was hard for me to maintain interest. I think it's important to say this isn't just a science book but, more specifically, an anthropology and biology book. I loved other science classes in school (chemistry, astronomy, theoretical physics) but I hated biology. I almost didn't even pass it. Seems like there's not much difference there, but a story about one the other sciences is sure to pull me in much, much more (for example, Event Horizon is one of my favorite horror movies).

Jay Massiet said...

I did think there was too much technology and science and that it bogged down the pacing of the book, but I thought it was interesting.