Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope

The Sudden Appearance of Hope won the world fantasy award for best novel in 2017. I was surprised to discover that this novel was readily available at the local library for a kindle checkout (despite having only one copy), so I proceeded to check it out.

The premise of the novel is that Hope Arden is a woman who cannot be remembered: if you met her, a few minutes after you can't see her any more, you'll have forgotten the encounter. This seems like such a great gimmick. I imagined a novel where the non-memorable woman is metaphor for all the people whom you pass by during the course of the day whom you'll never give a second thought to. Maybe they're too plain, or in the case of us Asian guys who get mistaken for each other by white people, just not considered interesting enough to make an impression. At the very least, it's a nice change from the plethora of vampire/werewolf/night magic fantasy crap that we see all over the place.

Well, I was wrong. There's some philosophizing in the novel, and there's plenty of angsting to go around, but Claire North has gone for the super-thief approach, complete with a full exposition of the limits of her powers (e.g., cameras can still record her appearance, you can still take a picture of her and write notes to yourself to remind you that you saw her, etc). The protagonist is also said to be beautiful by many she encounters (hey, if you're going to go Hollywood, you need to make sure the casting director can hire a big name star for the lead).

The plot revolves around a smart phone app called "Perfection." Perfection is the ultimate app that Google, Facebook, and Snapchat are evolving towards: the ultimate behavioral control and reprogramming app that changes you towards being perfect, making tons of money in the process. Why it exists, what the goals of the organization that launched are, then becomes the focus of the novel.

My problem with the novel is that long parts of it is pretentious, unreadable drivel barely worth skimming. It references Byron, but does nothing with it. There's plenty of stream of consciousness, some of it hints at a cool statement of what it must take to exist in a world where no one can remember you, but all of the characters in the book have no motivations that make any sense to me. The book never explains Hope's special powers (that's OK, it's fantasy), but Hope's antagonists never come up with more sophisticated approaches to trying to capture her either: e.g., machine-based feature recognition, biometric identification, or even simply tracking her via fingerprints. Since Hope frequently travels in countries where people with dark skin are viewed with suspicion, I would have expected racial profiling at the very least!

I finished the book hoping for an ending that somehow justifies the World Fantasy Award. I came away completely unfulfilled and wishing I had the time I'd put into the novel back.

Not recommended.
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