The Short Version: Leonard is a customer service rep for Neetsa Pizza, one of the many corporations who’ve taken over running the world in the future. When his calls go blank for three nights, he begins to panic – only to receive a call from a man who might be Marco Polo. Thus begins an epic adventure to save the world not just once but three times – and what a world it is to save.
The Review: Even the cover art on this book screams Douglas Adams, doesn’t it? I mean, just look at that typefont floating in space. And as you read this book, you get the sense that Adams, Vonnegut, Fforde, and other practitioners of similarly funny/quirky/weird heavily literary sci-fantasy are all definite inspirations – but it’s a difficult gap to bridge, between inspiration and final product. Unfortunately, this novel skitters off in its own particular weird way about halfway through, leaving the promise of the first half unfulfilled at the end.
Conceptually, the first section of the novel is a hoot. A near-future where our society is run by fast-food joints, all of whom worship particular thinkers or philosophies, is the sort of future-society that only a gifted mind could dream up. The Pythagorean pizza of Neetsa Pizza, the Jacobite haggis purveyors, the Maoists, a Dadaist restaurant that folded because they didn’t have a menu (which, incidentally, is the best joke in the entire book) – this is hilarious. You work in the mysterious Voynich manuscript and a strange semi-sentient search engine and you’ve got the workings of a funny, quirky romp. And bringing Marco Polo into the mix can only help. Things seem damned exciting as we go into the first interlude.
And then something happens. I’m not entirely sure what – but the novel sort of… Well, it falters. I’m not sure if it’s due to a lack of complete world-building (the fast-food joints, etc, are introduced and lightly sketched out but there’s no sense of what’s actually happening in this world) or if the characters just didn’t seem quite interesting enough to carry the novel… or, perhaps more accurately, they didn’t seem like they quite behaved in any logical manner but instead only went according to how the story needed them to go. Leonard transitions from having been pretty much a recluse into a go-getter with a girlfriend in the snap of a finger and his own abilities are pretty much forgotten for a large chunk of the novel. Similarly, there’s a whole lot about language and the ability to manipulate words themselves… but that all gets shunted to the side for a while because of a time travel plot. The real failure of this book may in fact be too much imagination – because there isn’t enough time devoted to half of the concepts but instead they’re just sort of bandied about and we’re expected to roll with the punches.
There’s a heavy dose of family plotting to this novel as well, which is all well and good – except that it feels, again, a little unnecessary and/or out of place. Setting us up with a wacky sci-fi plot only to hijack it with Leonard dealing with (variously) his grandfather, nephew, and future-wife – but also keeping THE END OF THE WORLD as both carrot and stick for the plot make for just too much happening to really enjoy the story’s delightful qualities.
Rating: 3 out of 5. As much as I really enjoyed the first third of the novel and the stage-setting of this universe… I found myself variously confused, bored, disappointed, and ultimately disinterested as the book wound to a close. The plot took turns that I didn’t expect and while I don’t have a problem with that, they seemed to be from a different book than the one I was sold. The cover says Adams, but the novel is more akin to Vonnegut – and while the two things aren’t terribly different, they’re different enough that the gap between understanding can cause a reader some difficulty. That and the whole thing just feels too undercooked – the world never comes out fully formed, so how can we care if it’s going to end?