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It's worth a read if you're a little bored
on 19 November 1998
I really wanted to like this book - I've always been a fan of Alan Dean Foster (Yeah, Flinx!) - but by the end of it all I could say was shrug and say "eh."
The central idea is interesting, if a bit over done. We've seen the "man torn from his own world, just trying to survive and get home" plotline thousands of times - dozens, even if we just count the AH versions. But there are few new plotlines, what counts is what you do with it.
And in my opinion, Foster doesn't do very much at all with this one.
To begin with, Maxwell Parker is not what you'd call a sympathetic character. Being a tabloid reporter, he's more than a little bit of a sleaze. Self-centered, egotistical, in love with himself, he's not someone you hang around with if you have a choice. And while this changes a little during the course of the book (nothing like meeting dozens of copies of yourself to give you a good feel for your weak points) , in the end, all Max really wants to do is go right back to the life he had before this all started, and in the meantime, all he's really doing is moping a lot. Self-centered depression is not what I call an ideal character development.
In fact, if I had to sum up what Max learns through all this it's "There's no place like home," a lesson The Wizard of Oz taught with much nicer characters - and which I have reservations about even there.
Foster introduces entirely too many characters that do a brief walk-on, set up themselves somewhat, and then are never seen again. I understand that most of these characters are "paras" that will vanish before the end of the chapter (by the very nature of the story), but it still feels like Foster is setting up someone to use and then just discarding them.
The whole book, in fact, is (over) loaded with long, winding, witty descriptives. It looks like Foster was trying to do the type of writing Terry Pratchett does in his Diskworld series (and other places). But Foster just doesn't quite manage it.
Mind you. This isn't a horrible book, nor one you'll read halfway through and then toss across the room in disgust. It's just a bland, rather pointless meander that probably could have been done better as a short story or novella.