Friday, February 27, 2009

Non Laughter Reviews: COUNTDOWN

Michelle Maddox

Speculative Fiction

Petty thief wakes to find herself chained to a wall as the unwilling star of a reality TV show in which the price for failure in any successive level is instant death.

A serious-looking couple running against a dark-lit background with a comicbook kind of vibe; gives an accurate idea of what to expect.

What Works
One of the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is "start the story in the middle of the action so as to hook reader interest, and then never to slow down so as to maintain it'. To put it mildly: the author has taken this advice to heart. From the first page, the pace is pounding, and never lets up. Written in first person, the reader has to figure out what's going on bit by adrenaline-rocketing bit alongside the heroine and hero (or is he? which seems to be a repeating theme in SHOMI titles; see also Eve Kenin's 'Driven'). The stakes are high, the situation desperate, the touch of paranormal enough to make things interesting but not so much that the feel of regular-person-against-corrupt-system is compromised. To thoroughly mangle Tom Hanks' famous line from 'A League of Their Own': 'Stagnation? There's no stagnation in Countdown!'

What Doesn't
Aspects that might not work for some readers are all actually things that make sense for the type of story this is. Beyond the very general backdrop of a post-apocalyptic, decaying urban world that everyone with enough money or connections wants to get off of, there is practically no world-building - but there doesn't need to be given the heroine's narrow 'just let me survive another hour' persective and the fact that the action takes place almost exclusively within the reality TV framework. The heroine spends the much of the first part of the story demanding to be told what is going on, yet whenever anyone gives her a piece of information or advice she ignores or acts in direct opposition to it - yet given the fact that she's been on her own since mid-adolescence following the deaths of her family members, her mistrustful nature and fight-or-flight response to everything makes sense. The clues to solution of each countdown level and the method of final confrontation with the villain seem a bit simple - but this story doesn't pretend to involve complex, brooding, multi-layered intrigue. If Apprentice Writer has grasped correctly, the SHOMI line is designed to appeal to younger readers who may also enjoy graphic novels, manga, and fast-paced action adventure. This book signals what it is with the comic-like cover vibe. Countdown delivers exactly what the package promises - a light, entertaining, furiously fast read.

It will be interesting to see if the author continues to write speculative fiction along with the humorous paranormal books she writes under her alternate pen name, Michelle Rowen.


Julia Smith said...

Wow - sounds fabulous. Even your review gave me stress!

Wylie Kinson said...

I think you nailed it, M. It gives exactly what this line is supposed to provide - action, a glimpse into 'futureworld', and a romantic core.
Definitely one of the best in the SHOMI line :)

M. said...

Julia - haha!

Wylie - yes, I did like it, and since you did too, that strengthens yet again the likelihood that I can trust your likes and dislikes to mirror mine pretty closely