Shadows Fall - Simon R. Green (1994)

Writing fiction is no easy task. Writing science-fiction or fantasy can be even more difficult since you don't have the real world to work from. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. Without the real world holding you down, your imagination can soar freely! The downside is that you must create the world from scratch, at least to some extent, and it must work. You have great freedom in setting up the rules, but if the rules are bad, the work fails. If you fail to follow them, the same thing happens - the narrative falters and falls. Sometimes, when the ground rules change in the middle of a book, the reader feels betrayed. Sadly, this last is the case with Shadows Fall.

The book starts out promisingly enough, with the town of Shadows Fall, where old legend go to, well, not "die" exactly, but hang around until they are ready for oblivion. It's populated by mostly forgotten pulp heroes, cartoon characters and rock stars; the dead, the not-quite-real and the completely imaginary. And, of course, bad things are happening. Murders. Betrayal from inside. Invasion from the real world, which is supposed to be impossible. And it all sort of works.

Until page 440-or-so out of 500-and-some. Then it all goes to hell. The Romans had a term for it - deus ex machina. When there was no other way out, one of the gods came out of the machine on stage and fixed it all up. It was a crappy way to end a play several thousand years ago, and it hasn't gotten any better with time. The book is tripping along, things are happening, characters are developing, plots are thickening, sacrifices are being made by good to stop evil, and then ...

And then, with a few casual strokes of his pen, the author simply negates all that went before. It's worse than those stupid "only a dream or imaginary story" issues that plagued comics in the seventies and eighties. Four-hundred-fifty pages of setting up the rules - the world - simply cast aside. The contract between reader and author broken. We agree to accept the premises, and in exchange, the author should also accept the premises, and, ideally, not insult our intelligence. Which, in this case, he doesn't and then does.

Which is not to say the book is all bad. The writing style is pleasant enough. It is laden with cultural and pop-cultural references and trying to recognize them all is fun. (Bonus points are awarded for referencing the band "The Deep Fix.") But ultimately, a promising narrative was brutally murdered, much like the body which kickstarted the plot some four-hundred pages earlier.

And that, my friends, is a shame.

Overall Grade: D+ (if you ignore the last 100 pages, a solid B)

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