Friday, August 10, 2012

Slipstream by Michael Offutt (REVIEW)

This was such an odd book, such a weird clash of genres, that I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about. There are aspects of Slipstream that would definitely brand it as a YA novel, but then there are others that are simply too mature for such an audience. It is a very smart novel, and one with a fantastic premise, but the characters themselves, as well as some of the narrative phrasing, seems crafted to appeal to a younger audience.

Like the book itself, the main character, Jordan, is something of an ill-fitting enigma. He is an orphan, a family boy, a risk taker, an ice hockey star, and a full-blown math and science geek. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see a character who straddles the stereotypes, but he seems a bit too good to be true. Without going into too much detail, he ends up discovering a parallel Earth that was all-but destroyed by the atomic bomb testing of the 1940s. Once there, he’s forced to join a sinister hockey league in order to gain information on how to defeat the evil soul-sucking (literally) corporation that holds sway over the world.

Maybe I’m showing my age a bit, but the narrative phrasing, with its emphasis on brands and brand-names, kept throwing me off, especially early on. I’m sure it rings true for a younger audience, and probably serves to draw them in, but it kept jarring me out of the story. The dialogue was a bit of an issue for me as well, coming across as a little too stilted and direct, at times, and a little to obviously hip at others, to sound entirely natural. That aspect did evolve as the story went on, as Offutt seemed to settle into his characters, but there were still occasions where the dialogue was used to info-dump on the reader.

On the other hand, the romance between Jordan and Kolin was exceptionally well-done, and provided a much-needed emotional core around which to build the story. It takes a while for them to come to grips with their feelings, much less to do anything about it, but I loved the slow burn of their intimacy. If you've ever questioned whether a gay teenager could pull off the role of romantic hero, Jordan does it. I wasn’t sure, at first, what kind of role would be left for Jordan’s sister to play, but Kathy is a strong character in her own right, and one who helps keep the reader engaged on a human level. She does slip a bit into the convenient damsel in distress mode from time to time, but she's definitely not alone in being put into jeopardy, and she is by no means a helpless young woman.

Like I hinted at earlier, the ideas and concepts here are incredibly clever, and the world-building is extremely detailed (even if a few elements did seem a bit derivative of other stories). I quite liked the contrast between the two worlds, and really appreciated the ways in which Offutt explored the different branches of society’s technological evolution. The spiritual, good vs evil elements were a bit too simple for my tastes, but the genre does often lend itself to the black and white, so that can be excused.

Overall, I admired the book a great deal, and liked parts of it a lot, even if the package as a whole didn’t completely work for me.

[Reviewed by Sally]

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