7th Son: Descent – Novel Review
- By J C Hutchins
- Published by St Martins Griffin, New York
This is an interesting book. Not a great book, by any means, but not a bad book either. What makes it interesting is what it says about the publishing industry, and about the new forms of publishing and distribution provided by the Internet which are beginning to transform the world of books in a fashion similar to the manner in which the worlds of music and video have already been upended.
“7th Son: Descent” is set in the modern era, and probably qualifies as a techno-thriller with a little more science fiction than most. The PDF version I was given to review ran to 355 pages, and since the book is only the first of a trilogy, one has to assume there’s a couple more this size in train.
In a nutshell: the President of the USA is assassinated at a meet-and-greet parade by a strange, highly aggressive child. Immediately thereafter, seven different men from around the USA are kidnapped by highly trained operatives of what appears to be a government-sanctioned agency. The men are united in a huge, technologically advanced research facility which houses the “Seventh Son Project”, and it soon becomes apparent that the seven men share an unbelievable secret.
Importantly — for the plotline — that secret has a direct bearing on the assassination of the President, which is revealed to be part of a complex and deadly plot that threatens the entire world. This plan has been conceived and borne out by an earlier member of the “Seventh Son Project”, a man who was brought into existence to act as a kind of template for future…ahhh… products of the project. Oh, hell: it’s impossible to discuss this book without one major spoiler, and that is “cloning”. Our seven protagonists are clones, raised separately to acquire a range of skills. And of course, the original from whom they were cloned has now gone seriously rogue, using technology developed in the Project to advance his nefarious aims.
Once the Seven Magnificent Clones are properly convinced of the nefariosity of their progenitor (their combined clone-parent mother is taken hostage by the villain) they leap into action. Solving a series of complicated and unlikely puzzles which are carefully aimed at the memories they share, they move into the familiar guns-ablazing action mode for the rescue.
Unfortunately, this comes rather late in the book. And this is the kind of thing that makes the book an interesting artifact — if not a riveting read.
Structurally, this book is a bit of a mess. The first twenty of thirty-something chapters is spent on backstory and build-up, slow revelation of the origins of the protagonists and long, complicated explanations of unlikely technologies. Three hundred and fifty-five pages, and it takes more than two hundred and forty of them to get anywhere near the action — if you discount the brief kidnapping scenes at the start. And after all that, we get exactly one (quite long!) sequence in which some of the Clone Boys clash with some Bad Guys, rescue Mom, and discover that Much More Dire Developments Await in the next book. And, presumably the book after. Gotta say, the “grand finale” of this book is a bit of a squib. I’ve rarely come across a book which is so clearly Part One.
So — yes, there’s a reason this book went the alternative publishing route, via the Internet and small press. It’s not paced particularly well, and it depends on some fairly dodgy science. But you know what? The writer has some real chops. Despite the problems with structure and pace, it’s an entertaining sort of book. The characters are nicely developed. There’s a sense of depth to them, even if they are identical clones. And there’s a bounce and snap to the writing itself, a bit of vim and originality that make it pleasant to read.
In short, this is a book which should have been picked up by a publisher, connected with an editor, and then published and marketed once it had been put through the rewrite grind. So why didn’t it happen? Why did the author choose another route altogether? Why did the money-boys of mainstream publishing miss the fact that this writer has talent, and a solid story to offer underneath the normal issues of a first-time-writer-tackling-a-trilogy?
Therein lies the conundrum, gentle readers. What the fuck is wrong with Big Publishing? How is it that a talentless, clueless hack can write five hundred pages of pure fecal matter about a pathologically ludicrous Masonic conspiracy, and they’ll print a zillion copies, shove ‘em down the neck of every airport victim on the planet? How come we’re bombarded by syphilitic pustule-oozings about glittery vegetarian vampires? Why are we drowning in unspeakable fucknuggets when far better, far more original, far more interesting material is simply ignored? For I will loudly and clearly say this: for all its flaws, I’d rather read Hutchins’ book a dozen times over than put up with even one more glimpse of Dan Brown’s latest. (Honestly? I’d sooner punch myself into a coma than try to read “The Lost Symbol” again.)
One of two things explains this, my friends: either we, as readers, are so terminally stupid that we deserve Stephanie Meyers and Dan Brown and the rest of their grotesquely cretinous ilk — or the publishing industry is so moribund, so desperate, and so cynical that they believe we are incapable of appreciating anything better.
The choice is literally up to you. But as for me? Well, the Internet is out there. And so are writers like J C Hutchins.
Be seeing you.
Correction! Correction! Correction!
Acting under information received from my Fearless Leader (What do it know about book publishers?! – Bruce), I have villainously slandered the very good name of St Martin’s Griffin, to wit: they’re not small press. They’re big. An imprint of Mighty MacMillan, as a matter of fact. For this appalling lapse of accuracy, I apologise with utmost humility. Even if you guys are stationed in some tinpot burg called “New York” in some obscure country on the opposite side of the world from Australia, we live in the Internet Age. The Facts Can Be Found — and should have been!
As to the review itself — well, it’s now a fine thing to see that the big players are, in fact, encouraging newcomers with talent, for it’s quite clear that the author knows how to turn a phrase, paint an image, and build an interesting character. It’s greatly to be hoped that we’ll get the opportunity to see more works from J C Hutchins, because this first novel does indeed hold considerable promise.
Critical comments on the novel itself remain in place, mind you. This is still very clearly a first novel, and it would absolutely have benefited from tightening, shortening, and restructuring to enhance pace and action. But it’s a rare first novel that comes out perfectly. The art of structuring and pacing a long work is one which comes with time and practise, and with a little luck, if we stick around for the ride, we may see something really cool. J C Hutchins has got the chops to produce entertaining, engaging work, and seems to this reviewer, anyway, to have the necessary abilities to learn on the job, hopefully to develop into an elegantly skilled, fun-to-read SF writer.
7th Son is also available as a free downloadable podcast serial at www.podiobooks.com
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