Saturday, 18 February 2012

Dragon's Teeth - A Surreal New World

Dragon's Teeth by Suzanne Van Rooyen, is a futuristic scifi that the author describes as a "cyberpunk/dystopian noir".  I have to say that it is not my usual read, but I really enjoyed this and would recommend it without hesitation to scifi fans and anyone else for that matter.

The novel is set in a dystopian future, where people flock to "polycarbonate bubble" suburbias like New Arcadia, while the atmosphere undergoes a "Sky Rejuvenation Program".  The story focuses on the central character of Cyrus, a detective with a penchant for fedoras, trench coats and "replica Cuban cigars".  In a world where DNA is everything, Cyrus takes on a case to investigate the biological parentage of Benji MacDowell - the heir to a large eugenics company.  The novel goes back and forth between the past and the present, until the mystery of MacDowell's heritage is revealed.  But, as Cyrus comes close to solving the case he must face some ghosts from his own past.

While I found the beginning a little (just a little) slow, I quickly became very attached to this novel.  The story is very intriguing.  It has fantastic action, suspense, mystery and humour.  The more I read the better it got and I found myself frequently thinking "god, this is good!"

What I liked most about it was our reluctant hero, Cyrus, who likes coffee and cigars for breakfast.  Cyrus, in some ways, is a stereotypical detective, especially with that fedora and trench coat!  But, I like this about him.  We get the sense that Cyrus has been around the traps, he has a cynicism and a world-wariness.  He is ultra street-wise and we have confidence in him to solve the case.  He has a soft side though, and Van Rooyen shows this in a delightful way through his interactions with his only friend, his cat Cora.  Cyrus is enigmatic throughout, with good reason, he brings some gripping twists to the novel's ending.

Another thing I really liked was the author's style of writing.  Van Rooyen has a clear talent.  Action scenes were exciting, love scenes were lovely.  I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of settings.  Obviously, being a futuristic novel the setting was very important to convey and it was done so effectively.  The author put a lot of effort into making it believable and 'real'.  The cybernetic culture of the city was revealed, often in dark and dubious city bars where humans, robots and cyborgs mixed. Citizens carried information around in their nanodrives the way we might carry briefcases.  But there was an element of the past too.  It reminded me of the way the futuristic film Gataca used elements of 1940s film noir.  So too does Dragon's Teeth -
Cyrus gazed towards the stage, peering through the smoky haze that billowed around the crowded tables.  The interior of the club was dark, the walls painted a deep green - or perhaps even black.  Life-size projections of Dizzie Gillepsie and Miles Davis moved across the walls, living shadows in moribund dance.  The patrons were a motley lot.  Some were clad in sequins and feather boas, other sporting the slim-fit catsuits of the modern era, all engrossed in the speakeasy vibe of the club called Dixieland.
 So what am I critical about?  Just a couple of things.  Firstly there were a few little anachronisms that to me didn't fit with the 1940s nostalgia and also didn't fit with the futuristic setting.  One glaring example for me was the use of mobile phones.  It just seemed out of place that people were using super technology to improve or even replace their physical image, yet they still communicated with 21st century technology.  This is really a very minor point, but every time Cyrus answered his "mobile" it seemed very obvious to me.  The other criticism is a little more complex and it is do with the level of complexity given to some of the minor characters.  Some parts of the story weren't so clear to me until after I had read the middle flashback scene.  I think this could have been remedied by interspersing the flashbacks more throughout the novel rather than having one major flashback in the middle.  Also, some characters played very crucial parts in the story, but they were given only small attention.  The relevance of the title of the novel, 'Dragon's Teeth' for example, is tied up in one scene that covers two or three pages only, and is at risk of being forgotten by the reader.  I went back and found it after finishing the novel and its significance was then made clear for me, but if I hadn't done that it would have been lost to me.  Essentially I think some things were not given the attention they needed to stay in the forefront of the reader's mind, and this could have been easily remedied before publication.

Nevertheless, the story is a very good one.  It is intriguing and engaging.  There are twists and turns that keep you turning the pages.  And the writing is excellent.

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