White Devils by Paul McAuley
Simon & Schuster, UK HCVR: ISBN 0743238850 PubDate: 02/01/04
Review by Antony Wagman
528 pgs. List price £12.99
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White Devils, the new Paul McAuley science fictional thriller is the first work I’ve read by this highly respected British author and from all I’ve heard about the McAuley’s work and from the reviews here on SFRevu of the authors’ two previous novels (The Secret of Life and
Whole Wide World) , I confess I was really looking forward to getting to grips with this one.
Being a relative newcomer to the art of review, I do rely on background author information in order to get a feel of what is ahead and following the recommendations as noted, my enthusiasm became salivation upon reading the book jacket. This review is by far the most difficult I have undertaken (out of the very few that I have undertaken anyway!) and several re-writes and editorial advice by the bucket load have been more than necessary!
McAuley has the makings of an excellent storyline. White Devils centers around genetic modification – or “gengingeering” as he cunningly terms it. The time and the place is the Congo in the near future – but a Congo that has become bankrupt and in effect purchased by a multi-national conglomerate . One could initially think that White Devils is not territorially dissimilar to Crichton’s Congo due to the strange ape-like creatures killing off intrepid explorers – or in this case, humanitarian aid workers. Are these creatures merely local guerrillas in white body paint? Are they result of the sinister sounding plastic disease or are they in fact
gengineered. It is the job of our hero, Nicholas Hyde to reveal all to the world with the assistance of reformed baddies and an assortment of scientists, whilst set against him are a never-ending stream of scoundrels of the usual and not so usual varieties.
The ingredients are there for a mighty fine read – but alas my salivating palate was not sated. A procession of villains scroll through the pages, each killing or being killed by the next villain in queue, like a set of 4-dimensional Russian dolls, leaving one with no focus with which to determine right or wrong within the context of the story. A clever ploy by the author? I personally think not, as this lack of focus only serves to numb the reader rather than lift them to heights of expectation. Too many main characters can only cause plot confusion and McAuley has main characters in abundance, each with their own agendas and loyalties, blurring and blending the pages into more of a chore than a pleasure – by the end of the book I was left saying “oh” rather than “wow!”
McAuley creates personalities with hidden agendas as the rule rather than the exception and hence looses some of the surprise element this style usually provides. Within the novel you will find an assortment of deranged scientists, evil scientists, forgetful scientists, daughters of scientists, eco warriors (he wasn’t a scientist – which did surprise me somewhat!) …..well you get the idea – all mixed in with drug barons and private armies. There were sub-plots within plots, and personal vendettas a-plenty. All great in principle, but sadly lacking in the written combination. Action most certainly does take place, but in well spaced segments – these being so well spaced that at times I found myself day-dreaming whist reading the book. Not a good sign!
Although I can undoubtedly see I can see why McAuley is well thought of in the industry, having a fine mind for science (actual and possible) and some great plot scenarios, at the risk of repeating my comments of previous reviews – the lily was well over gilded! The author entered far too much depth for my poor uneducated mind, leaving me speed-reading pages by the score, hunting desperately for some firm juicy chunks of steak, floating in an all-too present gravy …