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Science Fiction at its finest.
, 3 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Some Day I'll Find You (Kindle Edition)
'Some Day I'll Find You' is an avant-garde Science Fiction masterpiece belonging to the same densely allusive literary tradition as works by such writers as Gene Wolfe, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock. The book may initially appear to be a trite and derivative Romance, unworthy of critical attention; but once you've read it three or four times, you'll discover a secondary narrative encoded within the novel's subtext. Far from being an unoriginal and over-long chronicle of a bland woman's bland love life, Some Day I'll Find You is actually a modernist re-fashioning of a classic Space Opera premise. The action transpires on a vast generation ship that has lost its own history; wandering the universe for so long that the book's characters (the descendants of the ship's original crew) don't even realise they're on an inter-galactic space vessel. Society onboard the ship has rearranged itself to mimic that of 1950's Europe, and what at first reading appears to be an examination of post-war anxiety is, in fact, a kind of existential cosmic dissonance: the characters seem to know - on some strange, sub-conscious level - that there's something not quite right with the world that surrounds them, but so total is their immersion in this 20th Century fantasy that they're unable to investigate, or even express, their doubts.
Of course, none of this is stated out-right by Madeley, whose dedication to keeping the true nature of his book a secret can only be admired. As far as I'm aware, there have been no media spoilers of the novel's actual setting. In press releases, television interviews and newspaper articles, Madeley has kept schtum about the science fictional aspects of his book. The more cynical among you may argue that this is a disingenuous marketing strategy implemented so as not to alienate the types of people who would usually be interested in buying a novel by Richard Madeley; but you'd be wrong. Madeley's refusal to even acknowledge the SF aspects of Some Day I'll Find You is an extratextual continuation of the book's themes of wilful ignorance and buried truths. In essence the writer is living his life like his characters, and like his narrator; as if he's unaware of the true nature of things. Supposedly this is some kind of art project contrived to instil in his readers a Platonist questioning of the material evidence for the world around us.
The first clue to the fact that the setting isn't actually post-War France is the conspicuous absence of the sun from the novel's front cover; this is surely a paratextual hint that Some Day I'll Find You takes place in an enclosed space. The depiction of protagonist Diana's strangely yellow skin might also be an intimation to some kind of evolutionary tomfoolery that's taken place in the ship's distant past; but I wouldn't tug at this particular thread too much, you might be reading something into the text that isn't really there.
The novel begins in medias res (we are joining Diana half-way through her story, just as we are joining the ship in the middle of its journey, it seems), as we are introduced to one of the novel's more frequent refrains, "Everything was wrong. Completely wrong." True that. Obviously it doesn't take too much of a critical leap to understand this oft-repeated phrase as a kind of narrative incertitude: yes, on some level, Diana's love life is "completely wrong", but we astute readers know what Madeley is really getting at; that this ship's society is functioning in a tragic, unnatural way, having lost its true identity, possibly thousands of years ago.
Further suggestions that something's amiss with this world are ciphered into the book's prose. The constant barrage of terrible clichés may seem to be down to plain old bad writing, but what's really going on is a sort of modernist semantic game, as Madeley challenges his readers to re-evaluate the tenets of everyday language. We may believe that when the pilot on page 98 spouts some tired old chestnut about his vehicle being "an extension of his arms and hands", it's just an example of writerly laziness and an over-reliance on an old cliché, but what if the pilot is speaking literally? Maybe his body is fitted with some vestigial cybernetic implants that enable him to fly the pods of the generation ship (which have been re-fitted to resemble 20th- Century aviation, of course). Likewise one of Diana's siblings is, at one point, described as being "unfinished" - we may take this for non-literal lyricism if we wish, but maybe, just maybe, he's a robot. What Richard Madeley is doing is literalising clichés; turning them in on themselves, making them un-metaphors, just as this book is set in an un-France, in an un-Time. We've talked about how subtle and encoded all of this SF stuff is, but in some places, it's really in-your-face.
Similarly, 'Some Day I'll Find You's various historical inaccuracies function as auxiliary evidence that this isn't the real Europe of 1950. Plus, much of the book's language borrows from a lexical set more in keeping with Science Fiction than historical Romance; expect to encounter such words as "slipstream", "gravitational", and "the End of Days" on a regular basis. The book also makes frequent reference to masks, implying that we should look beyond the surface level of the plot in order to find its true meaning.
But what's the point of all this? If Richard Madeley wanted to write a book set aboard a giant, giant space ship, why didn't he just do it like other, normal writers of Science Fiction? Why is it all so cryptic and disguised? I guess it's a funny and clever way of getting fans of the Richard and Judy book club to spend their money on SF, but there's gotta be more to it than that.
Essentially Some Day I'll Find You is a book whose form mirrors the experience of it characters. This modernist device is used by Madeley to generate a sense of empathy with the poor souls lost aboard this generation ship. Just as the book's cast believe they are having Romantic misadventures in mid-20th-Century Europe, so the book actually behaves as a work of historical Romance, rather than the experimental Science Fiction it really is. The book is a microcosm for the generation ship itself; it acts as one thing, while actually being another. It's brilliant; a highly original examination of the nature of identity, knowledge, and how we choose to see the world around us.
Perhaps the best example of this duality is found in the book's title. "Some Day I'll Find You" could be Diana's passionate longing for love, or it could be the first-person voice of the generation ship itself, looking ahead to the destination it's been heading towards for thousands of years.
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