Review – Afterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

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Hello Internet. And I present to you, Review #45 (the only thing predictable about unpredictability is that it refuses to be predicted)! Wow, I’m nearing a half-century. This is alarming. Oh, am I far enough away from Leviathan to write a review on another Westefeld novel? Hm… Yeah, looks like it. Yippee!

Lemme ‘splain you a thing. When somebody jumps around with their style in the middle of a piece of literary text, constantly changing their perspective, genre and tone, the effect is frickin’ weird. It’s a bi’ like they jus’ dinnae care no more about formal structure, coherent writing and proper English. S’like they can’t care ‘tall ‘bout seemin’ any whit like a structured, sane person who is attempting to write a decent story. The fact that this past paragraph was so easy to write unnerves and confuses me, as it’s clearly going to be impossible to read. Note to future self: Don’t let accents fork out instances of your personality. Ya migh’ end up driftin’ off inta some faraway land wif no way back…

OK, hypocritically humorous paragraph over. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming: Afterworlds, hey? What about it? I think it’s stupid. Well, let’s break down why I think it’s stupid: It’s not one book. Afterworlds bases its entire premise on the fact that it is more than one book. It’s a reading experience, which means it is supposed be read like it was written by two different authors who happen to share the same general writing style writing two different books in two different genres and smashing the result together with a dutiful word-processor command and some poor, simple code. And it suffers for it.

The main problem with this is that for this kind of thing to work, both books have to be excellent reads, and they need to have enough similarities on a chapter-by-chapter plot breakdown that the audience never loses the feel that one story gives but lets it continue into the next story seamlessly. Meanwhile, the characters need to be different in each story so they aren’t confusing, and don’t let the reader mix-up characters between the stories. Afterworlds doesn’t do this. Afterworlds is like a scrapbook. It’s messy. Charmingly so, akin to a family album made by a six-year-old who uses pattern scissors to cut out the photos, but Afterworlds lacks finesse which should be expected from an author of this calibre.

Westerfeld has dropped the ball here. Afterworlds is one of those novels which sounds good in theory. The formula for a more pronounced version of two-lines-no-waiting, using different, interlocking stories which fit together to display an overarching dramatic meaning sounds fucking awesome, if it was put together by someone like George RR Martin or Alastair Reynolds. Seriously, this kind of pseudo-madliterary-science is something which could fundamentally change modern literature. But what we are left with is Afterworlds, a clear example of “Oooh, here is a cool idea. Let’s stitch another story into this one we already have to make this book have a neat marketing gimmick!” “Wow, sounds like a great idea! While you write this call an ambulance, you need to recover from an emergency frontal lobotomy!

Afterworlds was published in 2014 by Simon Pulse. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

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Review – Afterworlds – Scott Westerfeld

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