Friday, September 19, 2014
Many Waters (a book review post)
Here we are at book four in the continuing downward spiral that is Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. You can see the reviews for the previous books at the following links:
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Those of you who have been following along for a while will know that I kind of use Snow Crash as my barometer for what is a bad book. For as celebrated as it is, Snow Crash turned out to be incredibly ludicrous. I mean, to the point of "how could anyone over the age of 14 think this book is more than stupid?" But, still, I was glad to have read just to see how bad it is and to enjoy writing the scathing review that I did. Well... Many Waters plumbs depths of stupidity far greater than Snow Crash could ever aspire to and I'm not glad to have read it on any level other than that I plan to finish this series.
Yes, there will be spoilers, but, seriously, it doesn't matter, because you don't want to read this book.
All right. So this book deals with Sandy and Dennys, who have been little better than side characters in the other books. They are Meg and Charles Wallace's "normal" brothers. Twins. It also takes place prior to A Swiftly Tilting Planet, while the twins are sports stars in high school. The impression I got is that they are probably juniors and about 17 years old. Basically, the boys walk into their mother's lab and, when they walk out of it, rather than going back into the kitchen of the house, they end up in the days of Noah. Yes, that Noah. The one that built the big boat. Hence the title of the book.
There's never any firm conclusion as to how they got transported back in time. It may or may not have had to do with an experiment that was going on in the lab, though the type of experiment is never explained, or it may have had to do with them messing with their dad's weird computer, or, maybe, it was just God.
They end up in the desert. Of course, they're wearing winter clothing, which they soon discard... all the way down to their skin. Because that's always a smart thing to do in the desert. Get nearly naked, that is. The end result of that is that about 1/3 of the book deals with them being nursed back to health by Noah's family, who mistake the twins for giants, because no one in Noah's day was even near to being 5' tall. A lot of this section of the book also has the repeated conversation with, well, every freaking character they meet, "We're not giants." And it's not that I don't think they wouldn't have had to have had that conversation, but does L'Engle really need to repeat it 10 or so times.
This book also follows the pattern of all of the books in the series: The characters really don't ever do anything. Sandy and Dennys talk a lot about how they will get home... um, no, wait... They ask that question a lot. Every few pages it seems. "How will we get home?" "I don't know." "What should we do?" "Let's go garden." Seriously, that's their solution every time the question comes up, to work in Noah's father's garden. Basically, they end up being observers to the action going on around them and that's pretty much it. And what that comes down to is that the rising action in this book is about like a road in West Texas with a speed bump on it when Sandy gets kidnapped.
Aside from the lack of any real story or character development, the book is full of all kind of ridiculousness:
1. There are mammoths. Yes, in the desert. But these are not the mammoths you're thinking of. You know, the big, hairy elephants. No, these are tiny mammoths. Terrier-sized mammoths. In fact, they pretty much are small dogs that look like mammoths. The mammoths can scent things and follow trails like a bloodhound, but they are also used as dowsing rods to find water. Which explains why the desert people keep them as pets, I suppose, but how did they get tiny? Well, evidently, they... evolved to be that way? The explanation is something along the lines of them having grown smaller and smaller over a great time.
2. However, the Earth in this book is a brand new Earth. A very young planet still going through its growing pains, so the whole thing with the mammoths doesn't really make any sense. L'Engle seems to want to have the Earth both be billions of years old and only 5000 (or so) years old as in the strict Creationist viewpoint.
3. There are manticores and griffons. Or a manticore and a griffon. It's never clear on whether there are more than one of each. The manticore is "bad" and just shows up rather like a cartoon character to shout "hungry" and try to eat the little doggy-mammoths and have to be shooed away. The griffon shows up to chase "bad" girls away from Sandy and Dennys.
4. L'Engle seems to have a thing with unicorns, because there are more unicorns in this book. Virtual unicorns, as the twins call them. They don't always exist, only when you decide you believe in them and, of course, they can only be approached by virgins. The annoying thing with the unicorns is that even after the boys have experiences with the unicorns, they go on and on about how they can't believe in them because they don't exist, so they can only believe in the unicorns when the unicorns are actually standing right in front of them. I have to suppose that they ceased to believe in their family, too, when their family quit being right in front of them.
-- The issue with all of this is that L'Engle, from what I can tell, wants us to accept this book as being set in reality, our reality, and, yet, she undermines reality by introducing all of this mythological stuff into what we're supposed to believe is the actual pre-flood setting. It's more suspension of disbelief than I could handle, and I haven't even gotten to the Angels.
5. Oh, yes, the Angels. The pseudo conflict in the book is between the seraphim (the good Angels) and the nephilim (the bad Angels). In fact the whole "conflict" revolves around a girl, Yalith, who everyone is in love with, so it becomes a matter of whom she will choose: one of the twins (or both) or Eblis, the nephilim. It's an empty conflict through which L'Engle seems to deliver her message of "bad things don't happen to good people" (a message which makes me wonder what reality L'Engle lived in, because it's the same kind of message all of her books have: Love will always win and, ultimately, nothing bad happens to people who believe in love).
Speaking of Yalith and male/female relationships in general in this book: This may have been the most difficult part of the book for me to deal with. Yalith is the youngest child of Noah; she's nearly 100 years old (because people in Noah's time lived much longer (Noah is 700ish)), but she's basically a teenager. Because, you know, living longer means slower growth? Which makes me wonder how long would remain a baby in this time. 20 years? Because, man, if I was a mom, I'd be pissed. Having to care for an infant for 20 years... I can't even imagine it, especially since pregnancy still only last nine months (because there was a birth during the book). You could end up with, well, a lot of babies. Actually, what I think she wants us to believe is that everyone ages normally until they hit puberty when they, for whatever reason, quit developing. Still, that means around 90 years as a teenager! That would be the worst!
Oh, back to the twins and male/female relationships:
So Sandy meets Yalith; Yalith is basically naked, because the people in Noah's time only wear loincloths. In the desert. Because we have examples of people today who live in the desert but only wear loincloths? At any rate, Yalith is all but naked, and Sandy is a teenage boy confronted with a naked girl and his response is to get a "funny feeling." Um, what? A funny feeling? What does that even mean? And that's how all of the interactions between the twins and girls go: They get funny feelings. I'm sorry; these boys are supposed to be 16 or 17 years old, and L'Engle is treating them as if they're, at best, 10. It's ridiculous.
The twins do end up back at home after spending at least a year in the desert with Noah. One of the Angels removes the boys' tans and, I suppose, the year or more they had aged, although that's not actually mentioned. So they end up back at home right at the point they'd left and nothing has changed. There was no character growth for the twins and nothing of consequence affected in the past. The flood still happens and all of that. It's a book where the goal is to return to the status quo but without even the benefit of the characters learning anything from the journey. In fact, the boys pick up talking about getting their driver's licenses as if nothing had even happened.
Yes, I am still planning to read the final, such as it is, book in the series. [It's not really the final book, because there are at least three more related books, but there are only five books considered to be part of the Time series, and I'm sticking to that.] I've already tortured myself through four books, so I may as well, right? Yeah, okay, I could just stop, but I won't.
Seriously, though, there's not a single thing in this book that I can think of to make it worth reading. Even with Snow Crash, I can understand some of the appeal. After all, it did have some new (at the time) concepts, so I can see why people could have been wowed by it. But not Many Waters. Not unless you just want to read about two teenage boys weeding a garden in the desert and waiting around for something to take them home.