Friday, 2 July 2004

Brian Stableford: Year Zero (2000)

Edition: Five Star, 2003
Review number: 1247

Year Zero is about the Millennium - an odd novel to see its first (American) publication in 2004. Odd, too, to find a novel by a British author in a British library - in an American edition. Central character Molly makes the decision that she won't be year 2000 compliant - to her, 2000 will be year zero and she will be able to use this to make a new start in her life. She is a former prostitute and drug addict who has two daughters housed with foster parents, and her aim is to be able to persuade social services that she can take over the care of the two girls herself. Soon after she makes her decision, strange events begin to happen to her - she meets Elvis in a local supermarket, befriends an angel, is abducted by aliens (and this is only in the first few chapters!).

Year Zero is a problematic novel. There are two main issues. The first is that there is too much going on; each little scenario (Elvis, the angel, the aliens, and so on) could fill a whole novel - something by Tom Holt or Robert Rankin, for example. Sometimes this works, but here it just irritates. Maybe it is because the encounters come too swiftly one after another, and they are not allowed space to develop and interest the reader.

The second problem is that this is clearly meant to be a humorous whimsical fantasy in the style of Holt or Rankin, but it is just not particularly funny. There are amusing moments, and sometimes clever jokes, but on the whole Year Zero reads as though it were intended to be taken seriously. If it is, then there are other problems - Molly is not a very convincing character, and she does not really change as a result of her surprising experiences; the eventual reason which is revealed as to why she is the centre of all this is glib and extremely hard to accept, even in science fiction; and the tone of the writing is too light.

There are good things about Year Zero. It is sufficiently entertaining to keep the reader going to the end. For the genre aficionado, there are little homages to other science fiction writers, nods to novels like Stanislaus Lem's The Futurological Congress as well as the more obvious use of fringe popular cultural motifs like the alien abductions. But all in all, it is a second rate version of a Tom Holt novel, only worth reading to pass the time.

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