Monday, October 27, 2014

In Short Supply (a book review post)

You can see my review of part one of A Shot in the Light here.
There will be some slight spoilery-ness since this is a review of part two, but it's not going to be significant spoilery-ness. In other words, I don't think it's going to hurt anything for you to know any of what I might say in this review.
Also, I have no idea what the cover of this part has to do with this part of the story. As far as I can tell, there is no relevance. Unless I've forgotten something, but I don't think I have. Maybe I just don't understand what the picture is.

Okay, so we find out pretty much right away that there is some kind of conspiracy going on. That there is a conspiracy both helps the story and hurts it. Well, at this point, it hurts it, because it raises the "How the heck do you contrive a conspiracy to spread a deadly flu around and expect that work out?" question. Maybe, down the line, there will be an answer to that, but everything so far undermines the story's plausibility. Still, there are eight parts to go, and people do do incredibly stupid things, so I'm willing to go with that. For the moment. That there is a conspiracy helps in that it makes sense out of a few things from "A Flock of Ill Omens."

However, there is an issue from part one that carries over into this one, and it's something I have to talk about, especially in light of the current Ebola crisis. One of the things that is so far pushing the plot of A Shot in the Light (and, granted, this is only part two) is the lack of information to people. This bothered me in part one, but it's even worse in part two. There are repeated statements in the book about how there is no news getting out about how bad the flu epidemic is and how many people are dying from it (and even just in part two it's a considerable amount). The central characters (two of which are reporters) are having to do all of the research themselves. One of them even says something to the effect of how no one else in the world but her has the information that she has.

The problem, though, is that these characters in the book do almost all of their research online. Yeah, I said they are using the Internet to find all this stuff out, but the presentation is as if these people are the only ones with the skills to do this, so no one else knows what's really going on, and no one is reporting on this stuff. That includes the reporters, by the way. People are in the dark except for how things are immediately affecting them.

I just can't buy into this idea at all. It seems to me to go beyond just implausible to downright impossible. I mean, personally, I get all of my news online. All of it. Because that's what happens when you don't have TV. Okay, actually, I get some very minor parts from the radio when I'm in the car, but I don't spend a huge amount of time driving, so it is just a small portion and usually along the lines of getting the headlines, which I later read about online if I hadn't already seen it. I am not at all unique in getting the vastness of my news from the Internet, so the idea that the populace of the United States is ignorant of the extent of this flu virus in the book because there is no news of it is beyond what I can buy into. And, heck, with what we've seen of the coverage of Ebola in the US, it just heightens to me what a weak plot ploy this is.

Okay, yes, there's a conspiracy. But no conspiracy is enough to stop all the free roaming people of the Internet to talk about things. People would know what's going on.

Also, I continue to be bothered by how all of the characters have the same mannerisms. Although there are many point-of-view characters, it's like reading from the POV of the same character all the time. Even the military guy acts just like all of the women. Everything is all business all the time in the same crisp, efficient pattern. And that more than one character has thoughts of how everything is like being a spy just heightens that none of the characters have distinctive personalities.

The writing is fast paced, though, and, because of the Ebola issue, I'm interested to see where the author takes it, so I plan to keep reading. I'll read at least through part four and see how I feel at that point.


  1. Yeah, right now if anyone so much as coughs, it's reported, especially online.

  2. You're more forgiving than I, because this is the kind of stuff that would make me abandon a book. I hate when every character is written the same way. That just screams that the author needs more experience with characters before they write a novel. And the researching on the Internet thing is funny, because like you, I get all my news from the Internet. And trust me, if you've ever seen a forum like reddit where millions of people speak their mind/their findings/the truth, you'd see just how hard it would be to hide things like this from people on the Internet.

  3. Alex: There's just no conceivable way that the government or anyone could suppress news on the Internet without people knowing about it. You think people in China don't know the government censors what's available?
    And, well, with as much as people talk about their health online...

    ABftS: I'm waiting to see if she gets to a plausible explanation. At least, I'm giving her to chapter four to present one.

  4. Anyone with internet has access to the same information they do, but NO ONE else put it together? Yeah, that sounds like a pretty big plot hole. I have doubts that the rest of the book will make it worth tolerating.

  5. I could never read a book I didn't enjoy.

  6. Can't be too horrible if you're already in for two more volumes.

  7. I... I... you don't have a TV? Did I know that? I feel like I didn't know that. I'm surprised. I guess I shouldn't be, but it seems like you've mentioned things that I assumed meant you had a TV? I probably shouldn't just be going on and on about this.

    One thing I really admire about your writing is the way in "House" you made all your characters so different and the POV parts really seemed like different characters. That's especially hard with kids. I tend to notice that when it's done well. I'm reading "Tigerman" by Nick Harkaway and it's told (third person limited) from a Sergeant's POV and it really FEELS right. I'm also listening to "The Shining Girls," which switches from the POV of a killer to a little girl to a drug dealer, etc., and each is different, with different vocabulary, and the like.

    Doing that requires A LOT of work. I am not surprised a book like this messed it up.

    As for the Internet/conspiracy/nobody knows, consider this: this article:

    Lists people who in 2005 and 2006 were predicting more or less the exact economic collapse that then happened; many of the experts later interviewed said the signs were all there but people were misinterpreting them.

    The Wikipedia entry on the SARS pandemic notes that the WHO picked up on the Chinese outbreak of SARS through monitoring Chinese internet traffic. By the time they got information spread to some governments a few months later 500 more people had died. It wasn't until 4 months after the outbreak in China was detected, and after cases had spread to Vietnam, that a global alert was given.

    So I don't know the timeline of this novel, but it's plausible that for some period of time there could be an outbreak or even a global crisis brewing that nobody bothers paying attention to. People dying is easier to notice than people getting robbed by banks, but it's possible. You just have to explain it the right way. Which this guy didn't, it seems.

  8. Jeanne: Well, we'll see in two chapters.

    Jo: I'm not disenjoying it. Not yet.

    TAS: No, not horrible. The writing is snappy, so it's easy to get through it; it just hangs me up on the details.

    Briane: I have an actual television set, we just don't get any stations. We don't have cable or anything. Anything that we watch is on disc and, as far as I know, they haven't started releasing seasons of the local news station on DVD.

    Those things you're talking about are things looking ahead to what is going to happen in the future. In the book, it's stuff that is happening or has already happened, like a third of the population being dead.