Saturday, March 7, 2015

Book Review: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

This book looked like it would be right in my wheelhouse: scientists and gods, fate and free will and true love, a universe in which Toledo is a major astronomical (and astrological?!) center ... It also started promisingly by describing the life of a scientist, both teaching and researching, reasonably accurately. I was thinking maybe this would be like Helprin + Gaiman + science writing. But the key is how the elements come together, and they just don't, at least not until the last tenth of the book. The gods seen by one scientist effectively disappear for the whole middle third of the book, for example, and there are too many scenes about the bodily physics of love and way too few about the internal psychology of love. Faith, too, is reduced to intuition until a late plot twist changes all that, but for me, unconvincingly. Very little rang true in the middle third of the book for me, where the two scientists meet and fall in love. I was hoping for a scientific American Gods but the resonances that kept occurring to me were with Twilight. That's probably more indicative of my high expectations than anything else. I do hope this author keeps writing, because there's a lot of promise here. I think a tighter plot and a different schedule of revelations and supporting characters who are better-drawn and resonant, all that could add up to a book like I was hoping for. The fanciful details aren't fanciful enough and the internal logic of the fantasy isn't robust enough. This book proves to me that a certain realism is as important to fantastic writing as it is to novels set in the present day real world. And that realism isn't quite honed yet. Caveat discipulus.

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