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A man has died of rabies from a kidney transplant. After seventeen months. Yay, now we can worry about long-incubation period rabies! The lesson here I guess is take good care of your kidneys so you don't need a new one.

The Infinity ConcertoSo, The Infinity Concerto. I loved Greg Bear's Blood Music, and the title, summary, and about the first third of this book intrigued me very much, which made me all the more disappointed when it all went flat. Bear incorporates some excellent fantasy elements -- Lamia, the Crane Women, humans confined to a sort of ghetto in the realm of the Sidhe, the mystical power of music -- but he never seems to effectively meld the components into a coherent whole.

The most obvious example is music: the title has the word "concerto" in it, Michael's translation into the Realm is instigated by a composer, nearly all of the humans in the Realm are there because they experienced a mystical response to music (either playing or listening), no musical instruments are allowed in the Sidhe realm and it's mentioned more than once that the Sidhe dislike human music, etc. But in the end, all of that is completely irrelevant. Music plays no part whatsoever in the central conflict of the book, either in its unfolding or resolution. That was a major "WTF?" for me.

Another example of apparently important but ultimately unincorporated story elements is Eleuth: [Spoiler (click to open)]she loves Michael to the point that she dies for him but in the end her death means nothing, since he learns nothing from it and it has no effect on his quest, his training, his knowledge, or even his emotions! Many of the other characters such as Nikolai, Lin Piao, Savarin, the Sidhe horse, even Lamia suffer from this same lack of integration into the plot. As a reader, if I spend time getting invested in characters -- learning not only their names but little things about them -- I expect that investment to be returned somehow. The ROI on 95% of the characters in this book is about zero.

It wasn't just characters that floated about unattached. Since the main character is initially completely at a loss about what's going on, so is the reader. This is not a problem if the main character slowly begins to piece together the puzzle, carrying the reader with him or her. That didn't happen here, at least not for me. The back-story about Mages battling each other and turning each other into Earth(?) animals was intriguing but I had a lot of trouble following how it was connected to the Michael's story, what with the muddle of humans, Sidhe, gods and Mages who are, or pretend to be, each other, or something else. There also seemed to be a lot of extraneous information that wasn't integrated into the story (interstellar Sidhe travel, for example, and the weird brass cylinder floating in the Maelstrom).

This is at bottom a quest tale, which by definition means that the main character undertakes a journey, with a goal, and he changes along the way. Here again, Michael's journey and growth seemed to be largely unconnected to the climax of the story. His goal was never clear even to himself; his training consists of a lot of running, learning to generate heat so he doesn't need a fire, and throwing shadows to distract attackers. The "power" he uses at the end to defeat the Isomage is [Spoiler (click to open)]that he's a poet - but he was a poet from the beginning, so nothing about his journey has anything to do with it.

As a minor nit, I totally stopped caring about Biri when it's revealed that [Spoiler (click to open)]the first task he's assigned on joining the Sidhe version of the priesthood is to kill his horse, and he does. Maybe it's Bear's shorthand for demonstrating that the Sidhe are irredeemable bastards, but I think there are more sensible ways to demonstrate it. Besides, it doesn't really jibe with their other characteristics, such as nature magic and becoming trees after death.

This is a lot to say about a book that I didn't much like, but I think it's because it had so much potential and it vexes me that the potential was unrealized. (By comparison, Andre Norton's Dread Companion is a similar story about a human being translated to the Faerie Realm, but it does a much better job (maybe because it doesn't try so hard). I re-read that one on a regular basis.)


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Mar. 15th, 2013 09:21 pm (UTC)
Wow. The rabies news is scary.

But your review is great. It's always much better to hear why a book doesn't work for someone, than just "It sucked". I haven't even read the book, but the review makes me think about my own writing - what works and why, and what doesn't.
Mar. 16th, 2013 03:32 am (UTC)
Thanks -- that's one of the reasons I write book reviews, actually, because it helps me with my own writing, makes me think more deeply about it. It also means I have less patience with crap or semi-crap books, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your viewpoint...

Edited at 2013-03-16 03:32 am (UTC)
Mar. 15th, 2013 10:26 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't be too worried about contracting rabies from a transplant or transfusion. The incidence rate in humans is vanishingly low in the U.S., anyway. I doubt they even test for it, which is why this weird case happened. Frankly, I'd be more concerned about CJD or, more likely, a dose of C-Dif from the hospital stay.

But Yikes.
Mar. 16th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC)
Apparently the other reason they don't test is that there are only two labs in the US capable of testing, meaning it would take a couple of days and by then many organs would be unusable. You'd think they'd come up with a workable alternative, though, because "vanishingly small," while quite good, isn't zero, and really with rabies what you want is zero lol!

Edited at 2013-03-16 03:33 am (UTC)
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