review by Deon van Heerden

Published by Rebellion/Solaris
PB 384 pages
RRP £7.99 (Kindle £5.36)

From Issue 18 (Feb 2012)

There’s been a lot of hype around Gareth L. Powell of late, and I was greatly looking forward to picking up The Recollection to see what all the fuss has been about. Initially, however, I was left disappointed, for the work’s first half not only fails to engage the reader, but represents what is essentially a collage of science fiction clichés, bordering on pastiche. During this phase of the book, its influences are not difficult to guess, and there’s very little in the way of unique authorial identity. In fact, one is consistently given the impression of an author who does not read far beyond his own genre, resulting in a work which lacks the depth and gravitas of the genre’s first-tier authors. The expositions to the work’s various sub-plots feel rushed and inadequate, meaning that the characters are little more than paper thin. Even more troubling, the work proceeds to play out like a film, while failing to substitute the sort of subtext and visual and audio cues which lend a film – a necessarily condensed narrative – its emotional impact. So we are left with descriptions of the grandiose and emotionally wrenching, but are never presented with the depth of characterization necessary to make them powerful and engaging. For an author of obvious talents to descend into cliché, without the virtue of an obvious self-awareness, is truly a shame.

But, for all the first hundred-and-fifty pages’ shortcomings, the work goes some ways towards redeeming itself in its second half. The Recollection‘s interesting approach to light speed travel and its physical and emotional implications is convincing and well-sustained. Its three primary plots often interact in surprising – and, in one instance, startling – ways. We belatedly grow to care about the characters (well, mostly), and there is some genuine excitement and suspense to be had. And, most importantly, we meet The Recollection itself, which proves to be a satisfying mechanical variation on the themes introduced in Greg Bear’s Blood Music.

What we are left with then is a promising author still lacking a voice of his own. A rather more unforgiving editor and a few rewrites could certainly have mended the first half’s shortcomings, and served to expand and develop its rather more enjoyable second half into something really special. For all its faults, though, I know a good many people who would get a kick out of The Recollection, and for those completely new to the genre, it may serve as a solid introduction to the field. If you have not read Powell before, then you could consider this work an investment in your future for, should he continue, I have no doubt that he will eventually come into his own and produce truly great works of science fiction.

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Deon van Heerden

Deon van Heerden is a musician and part-time English teacher at various universities. He enjoys being paid for his opinion.
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