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The Secret City by Carol Emshwiller
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's review
May 25, 2007

did not like it
bookshelves: sff
Read in May, 2007

The one where the aliens came long ago to vacation on earth and were stranded here, and the home planet finally comes to take the offspring home.

Present tense is a tricky choice for a novel, because novels use time in complicated ways -- for instance, they often need to skip ahead to the next interesting part and then loop back briefly to cover what's been left out, which is difficult to do in present tense.

I've seen it work -- I think Bright Lights, Big City is in present tense -- but there it makes perfect sense to have strobe-flashes of immediacy punctuated by absences, because the protagonist is stoned all the time.

It doesn't work here. It gives the entire book a dreamy, static feel of waiting for something to happen, even while things are happening, which gets old fast.

The characters are problematic, too. As soon as we meet Lorpash, he's developing relationships -- with his jailer, with the old woman -- and yet we're supposed to believe he's lived well into adulthood without ever making a friend, taking a job, having any sort of connection. Allush doesn't know how to track, how to hunt, how not to injure herself, even though she's apparently survived in semi-wilderness conditions and is in her mid-twenties.

It's obvious on page 1 that Youpas is a psycho, but people continue to trust him so that he can provide peril when needed.

I think this could have been a lovely short story. I don't think much of it as a novel.
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