Welcome back to the SPSFC. As you may be aware, we are now in the semifinals, meaning a mere 30 books remain in the competition.
As before, our team of judges will read each book to completion (or give it a dreaded DNF rating, and score it somewhere between 0 and 10. These scores will be added together to create a team average. The team average will then be combined with the average score given by the other two teams to have read that book. Spaces in the final are limited, and only the highest scoring books from across the competition will be granted one of the coveted spaces. And remember, if a book has made it this far, it’s because a few people really liked it. Even if it doesn’t go any further in the contest, it must be doing something right.
Today’s review is of Intelligence Block, by Kit Falbo. As always, all thoughts below are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow judges.
There is no accounting for taste. That’s one of the first lessons you learn when you start sharing your favourite books with other people. Readers like different things, and what one reader hates, another might love. Other phrases you may have heard are ‘the customer is always right in matters of taste,’ ‘don’t yuck somebody else’s yum,’ and ‘one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain.’ Unfortunately, I found reading Intelligence Block to be nothing but a pain.
My first point of contention is that the tone of the prose and the nature of the content are at complete odds with one another. Most of the time, this reads like a children’s book. There is no complexity to the language, no depth to the writing, and no thematic meat that needs to be chewed upon. This would all be fine, if it were a book for children. And yet it is clearly not. There is is sex, prostitution, and pornography right from the very start. The idea of a world where people can broadcast their entire lives to the public is, I’ll admit, a potentially interesting one. My faith in the book’s ability to pull of that idea in an interesting manner, however, evaporated as quickly as the story itself leaps to the topic of voyeurism. Especially coming right off the back of a children’s party, it is a jarring and frankly odd way to introduce the idea to the reader.
Then we get to the central conceit of the novel. Our protagonist is a wizard, who performs at children’s parties while also engaging in magical duels for public consumption. But there’s also no privacy in this world, and everything can be recorded and broadcast online. Sometimes, two very disparate ideas come together to create something truly brilliant. This is not one of those times. It feels as if the author had an interesting idea about duelling wizards, complete with intricate magic system, but at the last moment decided to wedge it into a science fiction setting. Even leaving aside my personal ambivalence towards science fantasy, this book is just too many things that don’t connect. There were multiple points at which I simply said ‘This is stupid’ and stopped paying any attention. And honestly, I was happier once I did that.
Another saying we have around these parts is ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ Well, being an official judge requires me to have said something. But I’ll finish by giving Intelligence Block an SPSFC rating of 2/10, and leave it at that.
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