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(May 15, 2007)
“Scales” by Anthony G Williams.
Williams certainly had some fun putting his protagonist, Cade, in an unusual situation: that of a human horrifically scarred in an explosion and somehow transformed into something not-quite-human – (don’t worry, an explanation comes later). Along with Cade’s new reptilian looks and appetite, he also acquires some X-men style mental powers such as superhuman strength, the ability to heal minor ailments, the ability to lock onto a specific person’s mental signature, and the like. At first, Cade thinks to use his new powers for nothing but good, by visiting with hospital patients he feels he can help, or cure.
Soon enough, the government learns of Cade’s special skills. With his mental powers and prowess, he’s able to squash an attempted bombing and apprehend the terrorists. I was a little disturbed by William’s depiction of any and all possible terrorists looking “of Middle Eastern appearance”, but maybe those are just my prejudices showing through. In this episode, there is also an attempt made on Cade’s life, which is never really explained.
While under the protection of the government, Cade learns the secret of his transformation, and who was responsible for it. Beings, from a universe parallel to ours, caused the explosion that nearly killed Cade. They are responsible for his transformation, but even they are puzzled by his ever expanding mental powers. Thrilled to be contacted by aliens, Cade presents his new friends to the United Nations, as friends and allies. The aliens, who become known as “Saurians”, decide it is their altruistic duty to share their technologies with humans. Through their studies of parallel universes, they have found humans on other Earths, all who destroyed themselves through overpopulation, starvation, raping of natural resources and ultimately nuclear holocaust. Saurian and human scientists team up to make Saurian technologies on earth a reality. Good thing humans speak Saurian, or vice versa, or something, because Williams glosses right over any difficulties in inter-species communication and understanding.
In the next episode, a way is found for Cade to visit the Saurian planet, where he learns about their way of life, their government, and their society. He begins to realize he is too human to ever live comfortably with the Saurians, but has become too alien to ever live with humans again. It’s amusing when he tries to explain things about human culture to the Saurians, who being such a perfect and utopic race in constant mental communication with each other, they can’t understand the concepts of lying or corruption. Luckily Cade is with them, when they encounter another race of Saurians who seem to survive on lying. William’s description of this second race sounds more like a treatise on everything that is wrong with current western culture than the creative creation of an alien race. Action and suspense follows, firefights, trans-parallel universe jumping, and not to wreck the ending, but the good guys do prevail, mostly.
You’ll notice I used the word “episode” in this article. Unusual way to phrase a plot perhaps? Not in this book. Any themes to bind it all together seem to come and go, as if Williams couldn’t decide what he wanted to tell his reader. As Cade meets new people, previous friends and adventures seem to be instantly forgotten. He spends many months in hiding with a lover, Sophie. When she exits the story via violent death, within 10 or so pages, she is never mentioned again. Cade loved this woman. They were going to have a child. But he never mentions her again? That’s a problem for me. When he leaves his hospital patients to work with the Saurians, he says he’ll come back to them when he can. It is never mentioned again. Why have pages upon pages of something, if it isn’t integral enough to the main plot to ever be mentioned again?
Characterization, in general in this book, was a problem for me. We learn hardly anything about Cade. Who was he before the accident? Doesn’t he have friends, neighbors, co-workers that he misses? Williams does a decent job of introducing characters for the first half the book (he may not develop them at all, but at least he introduces them), but in the second half when it’s mostly Cade and the Saurians, Williams doesn’t even respect characters enough to name them. We’ve got The Convener, The Primary, The Representative. To give some credit, the first Saurians that Cade meets, he gives them Earth-ish names, but the Saurians never say “stupid human, those not our names”, they just answer to them. The idea that a human might not be able to pronounce an alien’s names is no excuse for laziness on the part of the author. For how (not) deep these characters are, and how small of a range of emotions they go through, I have to wonder how much Williams cared about the characters and the world he was creating. The lack of emotion is not only uninspiring, it’s disheartening. A painfully repetitive sentence and paragraph structure and awkwardly stilted dialogue rounds out the rest of my commentary on the technical aspects. Some additional editing and area rewrites could have made the difference between the book I read, and one that was a true pleasure to read.
This could have been an interesting book. The plot is interesting and has some creative twists. I do wish Williams had spent more time focusing on what he wanted to tell his readers than on writing a 200 page meandering essay on everything that’s wrong with modern culture and some vague ideas on how to fix it.