Solaris, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-84997-926-9
Well, I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted by the blurb on Steve Rasnic Tem’s Ubo:
A blend of science fiction and horror, award-winning author Steve Rasnic Tem’s new novel is a chilling story exploring the roots of violence and its effect on a possible future.
Like most marketing materials, though, the hype tends to be more exciting than the actual product being hyped up. Sure, the cover is appropriately gory in a macabre yet fascinating way, and the premise sounds good: strangers wake up to find themselves in some kind of enclosure called Ubo, which is controlled by alien roach-like creatures, and they are all forced to live out memories of some of the most infamous killers and other twisted fiends in human history. Eventually, our protagonist Daniel will wonder whether he is turning into the monsters he is made to dream about. Are those actions representations of his inner monster or something like that?
Well, let me be blunt, I don’t care about this story at all. I was initially drawn in by the premise, and some of the dreams these people are forced to live out are truly ghastly and horrifying – a good thing, of course, when it comes to a horror story. Eventually, however, I get frustrated by the fact that this story doesn’t seem to go anywhere much. It is just an exercise for the author to gaze lovingly at his navel and throw out mumbo-jumbo pretentious yammering on good, evil, existence, blah blah blah, just go take a dump in the matrix, that kind of thing. New characters keep showing up even late in the story, and new twists are introduced to make the whole thing become increasingly convoluted.
To enjoy something like Ubo, I need to be enthralled by the author’s narrative voice. But here, characters don’t speak, they monologue. They all practically take turns to launch multi-paragraphed “conversations” that resemble soliloquies more, in a way that feels rehearsed and very artificial, and worse, all of them use the same “I am reading aloud in my best British boarding school accent some of the more pretentious twaddle penned by an overly earnest high school drama club member” tone and style in their so-called conversations.
Maybe this one is actually a work of genius, and there is gold at the bottom of the author’s navel if I dive in and swim deep enough. Me, I’m still waiting for the “chilling story” to start by the time I reach the last page. The eye-rolling “revelations” towards the end of the book only confirm that this is one book that tries to be more literary than scary, in all the wrong ways.