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The Tomb of the Devils Kindle Edition
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Note that I got this book as a Kindle download when it was temporarily discounted to $0. Had I paid real money for it, I would probably be contacting the author, demanding a refund and compensation for my pain and suffering.
What makes this book awful?
Let's start with Mr. Christensen's plodding, tedious writing style. As another reviewer said, Christensen "tells" you information instead of "showing" it. Every scene is described in meticulous, confusing, exhaustive, irrelevant detail. Perhaps the author thinks he's paying homage to Tolstoy, but he lacks even a tiny fraction of Tolstoy's talent. Perhaps the book could have benefit from professional editing or even a proofreading by a competent, literate friend. I had underlined over a dozen obvious "placeholders" that were never filled in, egregious misspellings, misplaced or missing quotes, broken syntax, improper (usually missing) punctuation, etc., before I gave up on tracking these flaws.
Then we have the characters. Because Mr. Christensen is a poor writer of extremely limited imagination, his characters are flat and unsympathetic. 3/4 of the book are devoted to the main 3 characters' conversations with themselves, in which we are supposed to get to understand and appreciate them because we learn lots of things about their past. Unfortunately, none of the back-stories are interesting and don't make the characters any more believable, deep or engaging.
Then there is the plot, which can be summarized this way: in the late 20th or early 21st century a large exploration space ship Pacifica with an international crew is sent to Pluto. At about the time it reaches Pluto, the ship vanishes. In the next 90 years, nobody bothered to send a robotic or manned mission to find out what happened to Pacifica. 90 years later a passing automated probe takes a photo of Pluto's surface which shows Pacifica on the ground and a "shuttle" with 3 astronauts, the main actors of this book, is dispatched to investigate. Without any explanation of how it happened, the shuttle's crew find themselves crashed on Pluto's surface just about next to Pacifica's wreck.
At this point, just a couple of pages into the book, the story goes into a dream-like fantasy mode, where a number of hints are given that the whole rest of the book, up till the last few pages, is a hallucination that magically lasts for several months even though the crash-landed astronauts had only a few hours of air in their space suits. What happens during this hallucination is hard to explain. Characters are confronted with incredible facts and events and they insist on reacting to them much like one would react in a dream -- astoundingly weird things are taken in stride and without any questioning, as if they were normal and logical. This being a dream, I can excuse the 3 protagonists acting and reacting to their shared dream-experiences like utter idiots. This bewildering inanity takes up nearly the whole book.
In the end, the author justifies the events in the book with a quote from The Book of Mormon, which sheds no light on why I should have wasted an irreplaceable chunk of my life reading through nearly 700 pages of barely literate, dull drivel.
The "it's all a dream" logic makes it possible to explain many of the incredibly stupid things in this book. Hey, I've had plenty of dreams which were, well, dream-like and where things made sense only while I was dreaming. Some examples: Why in the late 21st or early 22nd century did the astronauts' air tanks not have a "% full" indicator? Why did the astronauts expect to be rescued when they never sent a signal back to the mission control? Why do the expansive descriptions of the astronauts' lives prior to the expedition read like they happened in the 1960s or 1970s, rather than in the late 21st century? Why an expedition ship sent to explore Pluto from orbit brought a huge pile of homesteading tools and equipment? Why does it make sense that humans (!!) independently evolved (or were created?) on several planets in different distant star systems?
I want to wrap this lengthy review with the mention of the bizarre Mormon angle to the whole story. I am not very familiar with the Mormon beliefs. May be the reviewers who gave this book 5 stars are Mr. Christensen's fellow mormons to whom the story and its allusions to morality and ritual made perfect sense. To me it read as cues and hints to something incomprehensibly alien.
Bottom line: don't buy this book. If it's available as a free Kindle download, avoid wasting your reader's memory on it. And whatever you do, don't waste your time reading it. I've suffered so you don't have to. Give my sacrifice a meaning by avoiding this book.
I only managed to get about 20% of the way through it. I normally finish every book I read, but I just had to stop when I lost the time-frame of this book. I thought it covered a future expedition to Pluto some 90 years after another future expedition to Pluto, but then, out of left field, the characters start talking about their experiences in what seems like the 1960s. That was merely the final straw.
The first thing that annoyed me was the constant "as we will see" or "as we have seen" or "later, she would learn" phrases inserted throughout. This tells you right away that the author is in the tell, not show mindset. It's tough to have a mystery when the author doesn't try to keep you guessing.
Second, the characters. There are three people on this expedition. 20% of the way in, I have absolutely no feel for one of them, because he's pretty much ignored. The other two I can classify as an "ice princess" or a "happy rogue/womanizer," but that's only because the book told me that's what they were, not because I could infer that from their behavior. In fact, the so-called "ice princess" was the warmest of the group. Tell, not show.
Third, the descriptions. Tedious does not begin to describe the details. At one point, the author creates an analogy comparing dust to ground up cobwebs, which is the first time I've ever considered that you could compare something to itself.
Fourth, the "mystery." It might be interesting. It has some potential. And I might have wanted to learn more about it, if the characters were also interested in it. Instead, they were more interested in shooting frogs, or taking baths, or getting drunk, or sitting on benches. Any time they questioned the environment around them, they resorted to the most mundane but completely improbable explanation available to them. Well, except for said third character. He was busy investigating whatever it was to be investigated. But, the book didn't want to follow the one person actually advancing the plot or doing something resembling excitement. Instead, we follow a character whose greatest revelation up to that point is that sand is involved in the creation of glass.
Fifth, the complete lack of danger. You would think being stranded on Pluto of all places would make survival a challenge. After the first chapter, that threat is removed, and no character seems at all concerned ever again with meeting their basic needs. They find the rations from the previous mission, and commence to have a feast from their haphazard scrounging. Tension averted, and there's nothing left to motivate the characters to get out of bed in the morning.
Skip this book. Whatever lies beyond the first 20%, it's just not worth it.