If I had to pick a word that summed up my feelings about The Other Side of Life, it would be … ambivalent. Creative and stylish in theory, but lacking in execution, it has been the hardest book to review thus far, and I’ll tell you about why.
First of all, the bad.
There are a number of mistakes (okay, you can call them creative license, I still call them mistakes) the author has made here that made the book hard for me to read. For starters, the POV is all over the place, jumping from character to character, and then into an omniscient state. We’re never fully in one person’s head for long enough to really understand any of the characters, and in sections where multiple people are together and talking, it can actually be hard to know who said what until you’re three or four lines down the passage. I found myself having to constantly go back and reread things and kind of “force” myself into the narrative, especially in the first 25%. This is the opposite of what you want, i.e., a book well written enough that grammar and technique are playing in the shadows while you fall into the story! Additionally, and more minor, Scott throws in a bunch of extra commas, meaning that I’m pausing mentally when I shouldn’t be.
Another thing I had a major issue with was character motivation. While Scott *does* give us insight into why her characters do the things they do, I find the explanation to be thin, hard to believe, and lacking – both for minor actions, like “Why do Anya and Nin initially each other,” all the way to major things, like, “Why is Anya risking her neck to help Nin in the first place?” I would have really liked it if the thought processes that led up to the actions were better explained – either through memories, pieces of backstory, or a more detailed description of feelings.” I also (and this one may just be my fault) didn’t really understand how the rules of this new universe worked, especially in how characters suddenly “knew” incredibly complicated and important pieces of knowledge. Like, how does Julius understand that he can choose between his own welfare and Leticia’s without anybody telling him or giving him a clear sign? Did he sense it from the “tree’s” force? If so, that needed to be better explain. This was a pattern I found repeating itself throughout the course of the novel; I just kept saying – How did they know that?
The final complaint that I had with this book is that at times, it felt like a diatribe with a novel pasted on top of it. I understand that cyberpunk is all about being against commercialism, the machine, and the danger of misusing technology, but there were entire, oddly timed passages, that espoused these viewpoints without really weaving them into the story. It was frustrating; while writing with a meaning is important, it should always (in my opinion) fall second to the flow and development of the narrative itself.
Oh, and minor point. The Mayans were the first with Cocoa as in “chocolate”, coca leaves as the forerunner to cocaine were actually an Incan/Quechua device.
Wow, that felt mean. Unfortunately, it also felt honest. Luckily, there are also quite a few good things to say about this work that will help pull the punch.
For starters, it’s pretty imaginative, and it has many of the elements we all look for with a good story. There’s a plucky heroine, a dreamy hero, a loyal sidekick, and an evil but redeemable villain (revealed only after a nice plot twist!) Nobody is invulnerable and everybody is quite human.
There are also passages where the author manages to stay in just one POV for long enough to create some real human meaning; my favorite is where the main character is giving her mom an, um, package at the mother’s place of employment. The mother’s concern and unspoken thoughts were both real and touching, and it was a definite point of light in the work.
And the author should be applauded for weaving her beliefs and a deeper message into her work, even if the execution isn’t always perfect. She’s definitely attempted something that we don’t see everyday, both stylistically and in her intended message, and she gets full points for bravery in that regard.
Finally, there is a lot of creativity in both her descriptions of the near future and in some of the things we see in the Elven domains. I was pretty excited at both the presentation of Nin’s homeland and in the unique method of transport that was discussed, although I felt like these things should have been developed an explained further.
Final Score: 3.2 stars. An interesting read that misses the mark of greatness, but an excellent start for this author. I look forward to see how she might handle these issues in the future.
Reviewed for Maria Violante's review blog, www.mariaviolante.com
(reviewed the day of purchase)