'Ink' by Hal Duncan
As I have discussed before, as I have aged, people increasingly have felt that I may have Asperger's Syndrome and as a result find it difficult to 'connect' with what they feel is 'normal' society. Indeed this week, having introduced myself to my new manger, a colleague said 'of course, the rest of us live normal lives'. Given her obsessions and zoning out to anyone else's words, we might contest her view of 'normal'. Anyway, I provide this as an explanation of why I ended up reading this book having given its predecessor 'Vellum' such a bad review: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-book-i-read-in-june.html I bought the two books together, though fortunately from a charity shop. Having been criticised at school for not completing a book ('Great Escape Stories' by Eric Williams (1962) largely because though a fan of the accounts of escapes from Colditz castle I found post-war stories had too much of a feeling of torture), I have always battled to any that I have bought and started to read.
Unsurprisingly, 'Ink' was no better than 'Vellum'. It is 115 pages longer which is hardly a benefit. It again contained loads of fragments typically featuring the same set of characters in multiple alternate worlds. This time there was a parallel thread of a performance of Harlequin, Columbine, et al and parallels drawn between them and the book's characters and various personalities from ancient myths. There is a pretentious bit at the end about how Duncan has drawn on various translations of Greek myths, but if that is the case and not simply an affectation, he has learned nothing from these works in terms of character, narrative or plot. Instead there is simply a pile of fragments. There are flashes of interesting ideas and settings. One sustained one is set in Syria in 1929 in which the Ottoman Empire was able to hold on to the North of the country following the First World War and using weaponry provided by Germany is threatening the British hold on Palestine. It is the first book I have read to feature the Yazhidi community, written before they attracted global attention from their suppression by Islamic State.
The two books promote a pro-gay agenda. The killing of a gay character at the end of 'Vellum' is constantly analysed and recast throughout the early parts of 'Ink'. Perhaps in 1975 this would have intrigued or even excited the reader, but in 2015 you are left feeling 'so what?'. You need to do far more with the scenario than simply toss it out there and expect the reader to be thrilled by how daring you are being. This is part of the problem, Duncan relishes showboating, grandstanding or whatever you want to call it. For him showing off how erudite he can be, how he has read more serious books than you, how he can keep all these tiny balls of story in the air at one time is more important to him than actually producing a decent book,
Again a lot of good material seems wasted due to an utter lack of (self-)discipline by the author. I mentioned before that he is a Michael Moorcock fan and references things like Rosenstrasse, Mirenburg and needle guns. There are Moorcockesque references to drugs and rock groups. So this is fan fiction on a large scale, 1115 pages of it in total. However, it really lacks the deftness of Moorcock and the repetitiveness which is inevitable when fragments are piled so high, makes it much less than the sum of its parts.
I think that there is talent somewhere in Duncan. However, his vanity has been flattered for far, far too long. The fact that he was able to publish two such large books full of crumbs of stories shows this. He needs to stop the grandstanding and shed the tired tropes that might have been daring forty or fifty years ago, but these days for anyone who is going to pick up his kind of book are on their cliche hitlist. Gay characters are now simply characters, nothing more than that. Their sexuality is a part of their make-up just as the height or hair colour or religion is of them and other characters, It no longer warrants getting so het up about not least from the author.
I do recommend you do not bother with either 'Vellum' and 'Ink'. I hope Duncan is not further pandered to with publishing contracts until he can actually write a story.