BURN BABY BURN: A REVIEW OF THOMAS CLABURN'S REFLECTING FIRES
"From a short-sighted viewpoint, this book is about a bunch of regular people taking sides against a bunch of weird, technological people."
by Jim Martin
COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS
Let's get this out of the way first thing, okay? I know absolutely nothing about science fiction. That's not to say that I don't enjoy it as a genre. I own or have owned nearly every William Gibson book going. The thing is, I just don't read sci-fi books all that often. As such, I can't look at Reflecting Fires and tell you that it's a leader in its genre, or that it's a formulaic piece of puck. When Thomas Claburn asked me to review it, this was one of my biggest concerns. How can I give an objective opinion about this book without knowing how it stands up in comparison to its peers?
Then it hit me. Why in the hell does it matter if I don't know much about the genre? The majority of the readers here at 3A.M. aren't concerned about genre as much as they love to read good books. Given that perspective, I have all the ability in the world to review this book. I'm going to focus on how I felt reading it, not from the perspective of John Q. Sci-Fi Goober skipping third year engineering classes to play Magic: The Gathering in the cafeteria, but from the perspective of me, a guy who loves to read books of all different persuasions. Hopefully, that's just like you. I am particularly hopeful that you aren't planning on skipping class later to play Magic…
One of the things I really liked about Reflecting Fires was the overall struggle in the book. Really, this is a story about man battling machinery. More deeply than that, though, it's a story about how faith is battling science, and about how science is ultimately just another faith. In this regard, it reminds me of an interview that 3A.M. did with Chuck Palahniuk a while back. Dan Epstein was talking to him about where he had found his inspiration for the book Lullaby, and he said:
"It's funny because every classical sort of . . . horror metaphor, whether it is Frankenstein, or Dracula, or The Mummy, is really a metaphor for something that frightened that period of history. Frankenstein was not so much a body sewn together out of dead bodies as it was the threat of the Industrial Revolution to the world, and also to the replacement of religion by science. Religion was taking the place of God. And so, the Frankenstein monster was a very tangible, you know, way to manifest that zeitgeist -- as a monster, and give the monster a face, and run it through a narrative and then destroy the monster. And I had to wonder what is the metaphor that sort of personifies the horror of our time. In one way it's a virus. It's, you know, viruses, illnesses, computer viruses, they work on so many different levels . . . but I can't help but think that there are really undiscovered, unrecognized, unacknowledged horror metaphors for the very here-and-now period of time that we live in."
All the way through Reflecting Fires, I kept thinking about that quotation, and how Claburn seemed to have stumbled across the same concept in his own work. From a short-sighted viewpoint, this book is about a bunch of regular people taking sides against a bunch of weird, technological people. The weird tech folk are unanimous in their direction, whereas the regular people sort of in-fight and work political angles and generally try to not make their intentions known until it's too late for their plans not to work. In that way, the monster in this book is technology, but there is just as much story around whether we embrace it gladly, grudgingly, or not at all, and why we do these things.
I have to admit that there was one thing that bugged me about the book, but it's something that bugs me about every sci-fi or fantasy book going. I hate all the new words they throw in. I hate it when they say that the splatriarch of contentional altruisms entered the hazk sphere for a chlorfixis of mead. Call me lazy, but I'd rather read "Mr. Big stopped by the pub for a pint" any day. What I find is that my irritation fades as I continue to read and become more familiar with these new words in the context of a story, but it's like watching a subtitled movie. Anything that happens in the beginning is lost on me until I don't have to think about reading the subtitles for a minute. In this case, though, Claburn seemed to be aware of my dislike, and used it as a way to slowly bring my interest into the book.
The books starts a little slowly, with a lot of very simple things that suck you in, but don't add up to much until you're further into the book. He seems to understand that we need the chance to get comfortable with the classes of characters in the book, so he gives us only a little of the story, but in cool bursts of imagery that keep us interested. It is only as we keep reading that he starts to drop in the pieces that make the overall picture make sense. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but let me put it to you this way… While there was a bunch of terms that were admittedly a little confusing, I was rewarded with these really great pieces of the story early on that didn't require me to understand everything. I could focus on the action, learn the terminology, and when the time came, the things from those first few pieces fell into place perfectly.
As I have said, I know two things about science fiction; jack, and shit. I can't tell you if this book is shades of the eighth book of the Tangal series by T.C.C. Gindersplorkstein. What I can say is that I enjoyed reading , and as there were no large drawings of penises (ahem Richard Hell's Hot and Cold), nobody on the bus looked at me funny when I turned the pages. For a guy's first novel, this book was totally enjoyable, and I look forward to reading the next book Thomas Clayburn releases.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Martin is the only one who really believes his press. He's a writer, a political observer, a computer programmer, a family guy, a punk rocker, a football player (American rules), and an irritating git.