on Sep. 30, 2014 :
The novel starts out with a bang, several really, as our hero Asher Cain sees a mass shooting in a bar. The time is ripe for the "perfect end", thinks Cain, his mouth gratefully wrapping around the barrel of one of the shooters' weapons. But fate -- and fate is a big thing in this book -- intervenes in the form of an undercover android cop.
His life is turned upside down, the veils fall from his eyes, and he gains new friends. Pretty standard stuff for a dystopia.
What worked in Palmquist's short fiction, the ambiguity, the vagueness, the ludicrous, and the implausible, doesn't work in a longer length.
Palmquist isn't surreal here. The violent action scenes are diagrammed competently if somewhat lifelessly. There is no doubt about the ultimate outcome of the ending, but the details of how we get there are sketchy.The pace is a bit slack in the last third before a rapid wrap-up of Cain's story.
Palmquist, though, has other strengths. His dialogue is believable and crisp, and he gets to use that talent at greater lengths than a short story would allow.
The book's main problem is that the dystopia seems neither plausible, in terms of historical and contemporary totalitarian societies, nor to serve any allegorical or satirical end. I even thought, at one point, we would get sort of a religious fable, but that didn't happen either. (I'll concede the term "dystopia" may have been devalued enough in the past 10 years to the point where it just means "a crappy future world" not the extrapolated outcome of some present and growing danger.)
Certain images and ideas are drawn from science fiction, history, and the modern world more to provoke certain associations and emotions than for any world building plausibility. We have the modern symbol of surveillance (and sudden death) in the numerous drones, including some of the insect and animal variety. Ridley Scott movies give us not only flying cars but also androids that bleed a sort of milky white blood. History gives us workplace floggings and a dictator (perhaps an android) with a name reminiscent of an American president, James Pole (James K. Polk – a president important in the history of Palmquist's home state of Texas). Asher Cain, in his job, running a police drone and occasionally gunning down alleged criminals, is literally manacled to his desk.
Those are very evocative images. But they don't add up to a believable political order.
And the plot ends up on one of the paths you would expect a dystopia too.
As I said, fate is a major idea here. The novel opens up with the Dante epigram: "Do not be afraid; our fate cannot be taken from us; it is a gift". The characters of the novel briefly and intermittently grapple with questions of whether Heaven or Hell exists exist. Ultimately, Cain opts for a fideist position -- better to believe despite the evidence.
(reviewed 2 years after purchase)
on Nov. 2, 2013 :
Full review originally posted at here.
Azure by author Grant Palmquist follows the story of Asher Cain, a government employee and pilot of police drone aircraft, until his own government spies on him and finds that his thoughts are no longer 100% in line with theirs, and they instead turn on him, forcing Asher to run from the government to whom he was so loyal. Still reeling from the loss of his wife and child, he comes to understand how tyrannical the government actually is and seeks to find a way to live outside the nation.
This novel was problematic for me, and to tell you the truth I’ve been trying to write an effective review of it for the past week but haven’t gotten very far. While I see several other reviewers really enjoyed it on some sites I frequent, for me it left out a lot, or pushed too hard at my boundary for suspension of disbelief. I also had issue with some philosophies expounded upon in the work, but I will get to that a bit further down. There was nothing particularly wrong with the technical writing aspects itself, I just didn’t find the story overly engaging.
While the idea is a good one, and right up my alley, the execution was what got me. The biggest problem I had was the lack of motivation for almost every character in the book – from our main charachter, Asher Cain’s, 180° philosophical change, to the motivation of the government, to the romance that develops between Asher and Autumn. Asher is shown in the beginning as a naive, and rather weak person, and I felt more connection with him as a character then, than I did when he all of a sudden turned into a brutal warrior, fighting against the system. I felt like Palmquist didn’t do an overly effective job of showing that change to the reader, or why that change takes place, and the reasons he did offer up fell flat. In fact, most of the notes I made about this book while reading it were about various characters and the lack of motivation for any the actions they were taking. There is one time in particular that sticks out in my mind where Asher is grappling with the best way to save as many innocent people as he can, but in the same breath, he has no problem shooting those very same innocent people. It just doesn’t add up, and not purposefully so.
The romance that develops between Asher and Autumn very much didn’t ring true either – Palmquist offered me nothing to show why or how they connected, besides a few long stares between the two. Within the span of weeks the characters are deeply in love, but there’s no simpatico of their personalities or wants or desires that the reader is privy to. In fact, Autumn is basically a non-character, she has absolutely no personality, strength, or personal philosophy, so the fact that Asher falls madly in love with her is either indicative of a deep character flaw in him (which is not what the author was trying to do), or just lazy writing.
I also felt that Palmquist skipped over too many parts in the book – we come in after Asher’s wife and child have left him, when it felt like we should have come into the story right as they were leaving. Likewise, when Asher has to run from his old life because of persecution by the big-bad government, he finds refuge with a band of other people who are living beneath the streets, but we skip over weeks and weeks where we should be making the journey with him while he finds his footing in this new world that is so vastly different than the one he has lived in his whole life.
There are also some laughable good guy/bad guy aim and abilities moments that really shook me out of the story; Asher learns to fly a hovering vehicle for the first time and is able to outrun trained police on those very same craft, as well as his stellar aim with a gun that makes him able to kill at will, despite the fact he’s never held a gun before. Likewise, the police are absolutely incapable of shooting him whenever they try.
I also took issue with the author directly (or almost directly) lifting quotations from Star Wars and Psycho and incorporating them into his dialogue. I’m not sure if Palmquist even realized he had done it – but both quotations are pretty famous ones, and that irked me.
Now for the philosophies that really didn’t jive with me: all the women in the book are extremely passive and meek, except for Asher’s wife, who we never get to meet, so she effectively doesn’t exist for the reader. At several different points, male characters, who are supposed to be the good guys, refer to “their women”, and refuse to let them go up above street level because it’s “too dangerous” for women. In fact, the only woman who was strong – Asher’s wife – ends up dead because of her beliefs and the fact she wants to make a better life for herself. What the hell kind of message is that?
Technically speaking, Palmquist is a great writer – sentence structure, grammar, and the technical aspects of language are used correctly. But there’s almost no flow or beauty to the words, and the story suffers greatly from it. To me, it read like somebody who has spent a long time writing in academia, rather than writing creatively.
So, all in all, 2 stars for the idea which really could have worked, and the technical use of language. It’s an OK book, but the philosophies towards female characters, and the lack of character development and motivations really make this work fall flat.
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)