Thursday, February 13, 2014

Book Review: Black Snow Days

Book Review: 'Black Snow Days' by Claudia O'Keefe

1 / 5 Stars

‘Black Snow Days’ (344 pp) was published in 1990, with cover artwork by Kevin Jankauski. It is one of the 12 novels, all first novels for their authors, making up the Third Series of Ace Science Fiction Specials.

‘Black Snow Days’ is one of the worst sf novels I’ve ever read. I struggled mightily to get as far as page 192 before giving up in despair.............

The novel does have an interesting premise: in 2046, snotty young punk Eric Pope is engaged in an illegal landspeeder race through the futuristic metropolis of Deerhorn, North Dakota. Pope crashes his speeder into a grain silo and suffers mortal injuries, blacking out as his rescuers struggle to remove him from the crumpled metal of his cockpit.

When next Eric Pope awakes, it’s 2058, and he is in the underground fallout shelter constructed by his late mother’s biotechnology company. World War Three has come and gone; outside the shelter, Nuclear Winter covers the radiation-drenched landscape. There are constant storms in which gritty snow – the ‘black snow’ of the book’s title – sweeps down to cover the earth with yet more fallout.

Eric discovers that he has been subjected to a protracted, but effective, healing process. His missing limbs have been replaced by newly grown ones, his maimed face repaired by implants and vat-grown tissue. His mother arranged to have his new body augmented with auto- detoxifying and auto- healing modules, and his brain has been enhanced by the addition of vat-grown neurons.

His late mother, it seems, had a mission in mind for her son: Eric Pope is custom-designed to survive on the surface of a post-nuclear earth, unprotected, unshielded. For purposes unknown to him, but probably vital for the survival of the human race.

There’s one problem: Jolie Pope also gave Eric schizophrenia. For his ‘female self’ exists as a mental avatar called Vivian. And however much Vivian interrupts Eric’s thoughts and actions, she can’t be wished away…..

Why is ‘Black Snow’ so bad ?

Well, most of the narrative is submerged under what can only be called gibberish. Gibberish in the sense of a continuous use of inane, empty prose. Combine the gibberish with segments  of dialogue in which crazed shelter dwellers argue among themselves and with Eric Pope; or badlands refugees argue among themselves and with Eric; or the AI that runs Eric’s futuristic supercar (called…..’Car’…..) argues with Eric; or Vivian argues with Eric; or the Car’s AI and Vivian argue with Eric, or Eric simply argues with….himself….. and things become so clotted and tedious that whatever momentum the thin narrative has gained is rapidly overwhelmed and dwindles to an afterthought.

Terry Carr died in 1987, so it’s unclear who (if anyone) provided pre-publication editorial oversight to Claudia O’Keefe, the author of ‘Black Snow’. Underneath the pretentiousness there is a good novel, unfortunately, the editorship necessary to help it emerge was not forthcoming.

‘Black Snow Days’ is a dud, and stands alongside Scholtz and Harcourt’s ‘Palimpsests’ as the most disappointing entries in the Third Series of the Ace Science Fiction Specials.

1 comment:

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the review -- the concept sounds great, as you say, so I appreciate that you let us know the actual execution is subpar. I hate it when novels have a great premise but little follow-through.

I'm sorry to hear though that "Palimpsests" is also a dud. I came across that one in a used bookstore about ten years ago and meant to read it asap, but still haven't. I've never been able to find much info about it online, other than it has something to do with time travel, and I love time travel stories (the best I've yet read is Gerrold's "The Man Who Folded Himself"). I've also seen Palimpsests described as "Pynchonesque."

Who knows, maybe someday I'll still read it, just to satisfy my curiosity.