David Mitchell's first novel, Ghostwritten, is fun and finely crafted. It's sf, though certainly not "science" fiction: technology is at most a peripheral device, and there are too many technical errors that a nitpicker like me found distressing. (E.g., the sun is ~8 light-minutes away, not 26 (p. 343); a "jiffy" is not commonly used to describe the Planck Time of 10-43 s (p. 357); the allusion to the Einstein Podolsky Rosen "paradox" misses the key quantum-mechanical point of it (p. 366); FM radio stations in the US don't have frequency assignments like 97.8 MHz (p. 375); ...) And Mitchell fails badly in his attempt to describe how a real scientist works on a hard problem. He exaggerates the impact of artificial intelligence on real-world military weapon systems.

But put all those blemishes aside; they could have been patched with a single afternoon of consultation with a scientifically literate editor. On the plus side of the scoresheet, Mitchell's imagination is powerful and his style is smooth, with occasional coruscating poetic passages. (Then again, there are unfortunate distractions --- e.g., a $1.25 word like judder re-used three times (pps. 237, 258, and 328) without apparent deliberate intent.) Mitchell's vision echoes the best work of Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and Salman Rushdie --- but with a wild originality all his own. He doesn't slam a home run out of the ballpark with his first swing (unlike Chuck Pahlaniuk's Fight Club). But Ghostwritten does get a solid base hit, and that's pretty good for a rookie.

(page numbers from the first US paperback edition; see also VernorVinge (17 Sep 2001), DreamData (22 Mar 2002), AnkhMicholi (12 Jul 2002), CutTheVolume (5 Mar 2004), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicPersonalHistory - 2005-03-12

(correlates: NumberNineDream, CloudAtlas, AirFlow, ...)