Our Sci-Fi Saturday pick for this week, is Paul Blackwell's debut novel, Undercurrent. This is an intriguing look at what happens when someone accidentally wakes up in a parallel universe.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: July 23rd 2013 by HarperTeen
All of these books explore the idea of what it means to be put into contact with a world very similar to yours, whether it's through scientific exploration, cosmic entanglement or time travel.
Now, we have Paul Blackwell's debut novel Undercurrent to add to the lineup (July 23rd, HarperTeen). It's an interesting look into what happens when a main character goes over a waterfall, and wakes up into a world that isn't quite what he remembers.
His parents are frequently on edge. Classmates are treating him like a sports star. People that he previously believed to be friends, are either acting like they've never spoken or they're enemies. And worse of all - Callum's brother has been injured in an accident which Callum remembers happening very differently.
As Callum works to find answers to what's going on, he begins to realize that someone also wants him dead. Can he get down to the bottom of things before it's too late?
Things that worked:
Undercurrent is written in first person, which means that we spend a significant amount of time dwelling in Callum's head. Luckily for us, Callum is both smart, engaging and curious. Yes - he can frequently be arrogant and slightly annoying. But at the same time, he's also very earnest and curious, e.g. when he tries to rekindle his friendship with his best friend.
This is a protagonist whom I think that readers will relate to, even though they may not necessarily agree with all of the decisions that he might make or the things that he might say.
As for the secondary characters, I can't say too much about them - because there really isn't that much to be said. Because the journey is very much Callum's to make, we don't get that much background information on the characters that he interacts with. I think it's going to be up to the individual reader to decide whether they like this, or if they think that it takes away from the story.
We're basically thrown into the middle of the action from the get-go, which I think is an effective plotting mechanism. Because the reader isn't allowed to develop a sense of comfort with Callum's real world, we also feel the same sense of disorientation and urgency that Callum feels when he wakes up.
Outside of the initial action scene, Blackwell does a fairly good job of using minute details to create a sense of dread and foreboding. Small details like things being out of place, or buildings not being maintained as they once were - really emphasize the idea that there's something wrong, and that Callum needs to get down to the bottom of it.
I did feel that the plotting fell apart somewhat near the second-half of the book, largely because there's more action than answers. However, I also think that this is something that readers will have to determine for themselves.
Blackwell writes with a practiced hand, which I believe is probably the result of his earlier indie works. (He's published before under a different name, but this - if I'm understanding correctly - is his official debut with a traditional big five publisher.
The writing flows smoothly, and is highly enjoyable to read.
Outside of the big three...
* The unique plotline. I know that I've said it's basically the season of parallel universes, but I still really liked the idea that Blackwell has his character actually wake up in a parallel universe, without having any inkling of this happening beforehand. I enjoyed Blackwell's explanation about why the parallel universe jump happened in the first place.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
As Dark Faerie Tales mentioned in her review, the secondary characters actually felt like prototypes/cutouts of characters that you normally see in books like this. So in many ways, it almost felt like repetition when I was reading it.
* The ending .
* Finally, the ending. It seemed like Blackwell ran out of steam, and more or less decided, "Okay. Time to end things here!" and had Callum go back to his world. It felt slightly anti-climatic, and it also made me feel like there wasn't much of a payoff to the mystery which had driven the intensity of Callum's search.
I would still recommend Undercurrent, but with reservation. And possibly only to hardcore science fiction fans, who enjoy Fringe-style science.
I received a copy of Undercurrent from HarperCollins via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!