Douglas Thompson's Sylvow is a science fiction book, which contains several different kind of elements: philosophy, science fiction, horror and surrealism. Although Sylvow is science fiction, it's also possible to call it weird fiction or literary surrealism, because the story is weird. The structure of this book is interesting, because there's an interlude chapter in the middle of the book.
The events take place in the city of Sylvow, which is an imaginary city in Northern Europe. According to the background notes, "Geographically Sylvow is a perhaps unlikely fusion of three places: Glaslow (Scotland), Osnabruck in Germany, and Novogrudek in Belarus." - it's a good description of this imaginary city.
Sylvow's main characters are:
- Leo and Claudia (brother and sister)
- Vivienne (Leo's wife)
- Franco (Claudia's husband)
- Vittorio (Franco and Claudia's son)
- Lucia (Franco and Claudia's daughter)
- Anton (Franco's patient)
Douglas Thompson writes fluently about the lives of these characters and gradually introduces new characters as the story begins to develop. He also writes skillfully about death, sex and environmental issues. Thompson weaves family and relationship drama, philosophy, enviromental issues and science fiction together to create a multi-layered story... and he succeeds in it.
The characters were interesting. It was good that Douglas Thompson managed bring depth to the story by telling what Leo meant to Claudia and Vivienne and how his life affected their lives. Tarquin (the mayor's son) was an interesting minor character who suffered an extraordinary fate. Veronika (Franco's patient) was also an interesting character, because she was portrayed as a Goth girl.
There were several interesting scenes in this book, but I'll only mention a couple of scenes:
Leo's letters were interesting, because they predicted the disaster that would change everything. I also enjoyed reading about the visions that certain characters saw. The scene in which the children were playing chess was a brilliant scene, because it was a funny and slightly disturbing scene. The interlude chapter in the middle of the book was a well written chapter about the fate of the mayor's son.
In my opinion Sylvow is an intelligent story about weird changes and surprises. The environmental disaster described in this book is a good example of how nature can surprise us - nature is full of changes and when something weird happens, it may surprise us (in other words, certain evolutionary changes can be predicted, but nature has a way to surprise us). Living organisms have an ability to adapt to different kind of situations when given enough time, so almost anything is possible over a long period of time. The evolutionary changes in Sylvow are fascinating, because Douglas Thompson shows what nature is capable of doing.
I liked the theme of this book, because I've always been interested in nature, animals and plants. It was interesting to read about how nature began to change, what happened in the forest and how the changes affected the characters (the apocalyptic visions were compelling). I also liked how Douglas Thompson used Roman history and mythology in this book - the reference to Romulus and Remus was interesting.
The cover and interior art by David Rix is artistically beautiful. It was nice that each chapter began with a picture of a tree leaf.
I can recommend Sylvow to science fiction readers, because it's a different kind of science fiction book (I also think that horror readers will also find this book interesting, because certain things will appeal to horror fans). I'm sure that people who are interested in nature and plants will like this book, because they're familiar with certain biological things, which other readers may not know about.
Sylvow is almost like a mosaic of different parts. All the different parts form a rich and rewarding reading experience to openminded readers, who are willing to read something different. If you're fed up with mainstream science fiction, Sylvow will offer you a different kind of reading experience, because it's a weird and fascinating combination of horror, science fiction, environmental issues and philosophical elements. Sylvow is one of the weirdest books I've read, but it's weird in a good way.
According to Douglas Thompson's website, it looks like there'll probably be a sequel (Volwys) someday. I hope this sequel will be published, because Thompson's visions are genuinely fascinating.
After reading Sylvow I can say that Douglas Thompson's debut book, Ultrameta (published in 2009), will go to my reading list.