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The Bore Maker: Some interesting but underdeveloped ideas in an otherwise dull novel
on December 18, 2013
Nagata's novel builds the transhuman setting that, through repetition and elaboration over nearly 20 years, has by now become comfortably recognizable in its broad strokes. The novel's world exists somewhere along the continuum toward the end result in H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine," here with an effete and technologically advanced society high up in Earth orbit, while the downtrodden live below on nasty old Earth and, indeed, even eat the molecular decay from the bodies of the higher ups that wash up in the rivers (or so it seems).
We meet a variety of characters from these worlds: Nikko and his brother Sandor from higher up, as well as Kristin, a police chief; Phousita and Arif from down below. The latter two, it should be pointed out, are escaped child sex slaves, who apparently were designed as pleasure toys for the ultra-rich advanced types. Phousita inherits a miracle technology, the Bohr Maker, and sets off a chain of non-events that swirl into a sometimes bewildering and ultimately unsatisfying molecular stew. Nagata does not have seem to have the gift of developing multiple characters along one plot line, and her focus, and ours, becomes diffracted as a result.
Nagata's prose style is vague on the more interesting points that would drive the plot and reveal the characters' motivations, and she's overly exacting on some of the more banal points of the narrative. While there is hardly any exposition of how this world came to be, or how this rich-poor dichotomy continues to function economically, there was a tedious 2-page description of the characters trying to figure out how to dock their spacecraft. At times, some of the technology is breathtaking (molecular redesign, ghosts in atriums, an orbital habitat that is alive), but then there are the robot-like police dogs that are supposed to be threatening but aren't, and a search in a corporate office. (Yes, people still work in offices in this future, perhaps the most chilling hallmark of any future dystopia.)
Where all of this was driving was lost in the interwoven interplay between the characters. Phousita is likeable but fundamentally passive as a possible heroine, and as a result, we lose sight of her toward the end, as the plot shifts back to Nikko, Kristin, and threats of explosions. There are random and half-baked themes about technology appearing to be magical, and an Eden somewhere, but these potentially deep ideas are swallowed in this amorphous blob of a novel that, like Summer House, swallows the searcher of truth.
Why the Bohr Maker was such a threat, why Nikko wanted to destroy this civilization, or why Leander Bohr wanted his maker back are not well explained, or better yet, shown. In the standard dystopian arc, Phousita or Arif would have been more actively trying to destroy this civilization, or build a new one--perhaps with a deeper commitment from Sandor, not Nikko, who seems self-absorbed with some sort of personal vendetta; if a society has given you everything, including the possibility for immortality, why would you want to destroy it?
In the end, Nagata's novel left me wondering what I just read, and why any of it matters.