Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Beast by Christine Pope

Rating: WARTY!

Erratum: "that field of expertise was much more nuanced and difficuLieutenant Yes, miracles were still possible, but in order to rebuild, there had to be something left to build upon." Note that the previous sentence is an exact copy of the text from the novella. The word 'difficult' is truncated and mashed into the word 'Lieutenant' and some text is obviously missing here.

This was a really short story, barely a novella. Even so, I made it only about two-thirds the way through, because it was so unrealistic and so poorly-written. It's supposed to be volume zero of some series which I definitely have zero intention of reading after this nonsense.

When I say it lacks realism, I'm not talking about when the female main character Nora Whitaker "retraced her steps, went through the clean room and back out into the main hallway" because that's not how a clean room works. You don’t go through a clean room in your 'street' clothes. You gown, mask, and wear bootees to enter!

This so-called 'clean' room is located in a lab on Neptune's moon Triton. I don't even know why they were on Triton. It made no sense unless the doctor, Raymond Killian, was hoping to escape the 'Copehagen Protocols' by doing his work some three billion miles from Copenhagen, but the author herself tripped up that idea by having Nora raise the matter, implying that the protocols still applied even out there around the most distant planet in our solar system (not counting the several dwarf planets).

Killian was disfigured in an accident and wears extensive prosthetics, including a mask. Whittaker is thrilled to work with him because he's so brilliant, supposedly. She's able to solve a problem for him, but despite months quickly passing by, with the two working together, the author fails to do any work to show that they're becoming closer emotionally. She expects us to take it on faith while the whole time when this happens is essentially skipped-over, which for me was a fail when it comes to making a connection between them. It betrays the events the author goes on to describe later. That was a big part of the inauthenticity problem for me.

At first I thought Killian was actually a robot or a mechanical avatar controlled by Killian while his real body was hidden away behind the locked door to the private part of his lab where Nora never gets to go, but my idea was wrong. Honestly I wish I had been right because it might have made for a better story. At least I have some ideas of my own for a sci-fi novel based on Beauty and the Beast now, right?! LOL!

The lab was a bad venue for any romance because it was so sterile, by which I do not mean clinically (we know it was not, based on Killian's totally inadequate 'clean room' protocols!), I mean it lacked any other people, which rendered it a bit of a stretch that one guy had accomplished all he had with no assistants or assistance. Adding the idiot Trumpian Lieutenant just made things worse, because it rendered Whittaker the helpless maiden in distress and Killian her rescuer, which never goes down well for me, and is insulting to women in general. And why were those people military guys and not just security?

What the author ought to have done is have a couple of lab assistants, including a rival female instead of the lieutenant. That would have made for a better story. Consider this: given that Killian was severly disfigured, where were the people who designed and applied the prosthetics he wore? They already knew everything about his condition; why were one or two of them not working for him at the lab?

It made Whittaker look shallow and clueless that she didn't consider this and wonder about it, and it would have been easy for the author to make up excuses for why others were not there if she truly had wanted this complex lab to unrealistically have only Killian working in it: "Oh the doctor wanted to remain on Earth so he could continue his work in advanced prosthetics." "Oh my previous lab assistants didn't want to move to Triton," and so on. If the author didn't want any humans there, why not mention that he used robots for the work? That would have given Whittaker an opening to deepen the story by having her wonder if Killian himself was a robot.

So in short this is a big fail, an unworthy read and I cannot commend it. Please read on if you don't mind a big spoiler.

One of the biggest problems for me, was when Killian invited Whittaker to dinner in his private quarters with the teasing promise that he had something to show her. The something he wanted to share was a new body, which he had somehow created - built, grown, whatever (the author's a bit vague about it, at least as far as I read this story). Apparently it's a sort of cyborg - rather like the original terminator character from the first of the James Cameron movies. It's not actually a clone of him, so why is there a problem with the Copenhagen protocols (whatever those are supposed to be)?!

His plan is to transfer his consciousness into this new body. Rather than be thrilled for him, and marvel at his brilliance and at this opportunity to help countless others who have a disfigurement or otherwise problematic bodies. All Whittaker does is whine about the Copenhagen protocol and about how he's just fine the way he is - when he clearly isn't. Obviously the author is just doing this so she can maintain the 'beauty and the beast' fiction, but the writing is so poorly done that I just didn't buy it.

There's no problem with someone falling for a person with a handicap or a disfigurement by any means; the problem is that this author didn't do the work to get us there, and when Whittaker, out of the blue, just kisses his crispy lips it felt icky rather than romantic precisely because it felt more like she was doing it for the kick of seeing what it was like, rather than because she had genuine and strong feelings for him. This says nothing of the inappropriate relationship which Whittaker never once questions. Killian is her boss, so it's ethically wrong for him to be involved with her, he being the authority figure and her employer. To have neither Whittaker nor Killian even - at least fleetingly - mention this was bad writing, especially when Whittaker had baulked so strongly at his new body, because it contrevened some vague cloning protcol in her mind.

What did get mentioned was what a scandal it would be if anyone found out they were invovled. Not if they found out about his new body. Oh no - but if they thought she and he were having an affair! Seriously? The lab is sealed - no one gets in or out except Whittaker and Killian, and they always work long hours so why would anyone think there was anything going on - or conversely why would there not be an assumption that something was going on? It made no sense to suddenly, at that moment begin to doubt and quesiton. Again, badly-written, Ms Pope.

Plus it made no sense! If he could grow flesh like this, when why not grow it directly over his existing body? Maybe his body was badly damaged, but clearly it still functioned perfectly underneath the scarring, so it woudl seem that the scarring was, despite being very bad, superficial in important regards. You would think he could have added this new flesh, slowly replacing the scarred portions. We're already doing face transplants. I think it would have made for a better story too - especially if the replacement had gone wrong and this was why he was a 'beast'. But as I said, I didn't buy this. The writing felt lazy and ill-considered, and even as a work of fiction, it felt unreal and ridiculous and I cannot commend it for those reasons.