Since it was too late to put a lead slug through its charge-coupled brain, and he didn't like the readout below his lidar screen, South did what any red-blooded American test pilot would do in his situation: he whacked the offending meter, hard, with the flat of his gloved hand.
Previously on Amalgamated Novels Under Scrutiny, we read a book that was not a novel but actually a collection of 4 novellas, and we also read a book that was a novel featuring 1 protagonist. Today we'll be looking at Threshold, which is a novel with an e n s e m b l e cast :D (an ensemble is a story where you have a lot of POV characters and there isn't necessarily one "main" character but they're all part of the same overarching narrative)
Threshold was written by TWO AUTHORS :O named Janet E. Morris and Chris Morris and they are husband and wife and it looks like they've written a lot of books together which seems super wholesome and I love it. This book was written in 1990 and published by Roc, an imprint under Penguin.
My favorite part of reading this book was when a fly landed on the page I was reading and I thought the fly looked really cool so I let him or her keep crawling around on the page especially since I was reading a different part than the fly was on anyways. Eventually the fly walked off of the page and onto my hand and then was walking all around my arm while I was reading the book, and although our time together was only a few minutes before they flew away, I felt like me and the fly had made friends. It was definitely the part of reading Threshold that was the most emotionally resonanat for me, and will probably be my main and only takeaway from the novel. But let's talk about it some more :D
The cast of point-of-view characters in Threshold includes:
- A pilot from like 1000 years before the events of this novel take place but he went through a time-hole thing so he's here with all the other characters
- A pilot from when the novel actually does take place and he is in the military and is grumpy
- A pilot who is a smuggler and has a rich family
- A mechanic who works on people's spaceships on the downlow
- The daughter of the leader of a group of Muslim people who are visiting the space station that this novel takes place on
- Like 3 or 4 buerocrat/business/government type people who I'm sure are different characters because they have different names and some of them work in different departments but boy could I not tell you any other distinguishing features between them
- And maybe more that I forgot :D
All of these characters are gross and I didn't like them. More on that after we've covered the plot.
This book was like reading a 250 page Rube Goldberg machine. Each chapter seems to reintroduce the characters we're with and the situation they're in, have them do some stuff, and then tell us what that stuff has resulted in and where the characters will be heading next as a consequence. Which, like, you could argue that that's what novels usually are? But this one felt extremely transparent about it, in a way that made the experience really boring while also being like "ah I see what you did there, yes these dominoes falling onto this tripwire that causes a marble to fall down a track was very cleverly set up, gold star." It's like someone telling you a joke and you get the joke but don't find it funny, for 250 pages.
Basically, there is a space conference about civil rights going on that happens to coincide with a Muslim holy day which also happens to coincide with a scavenger bringing a mysterious alien artifact to the space station which also happens to coincide with a smuggler bringing hallucinogenic drugs and mind-control space raccoons to the space station which also happens to coincide with a test pilot from 1000 years ago returning from a test flight in space. All of these things knock against each other and then everything falls into place and works out The End.
It's not... awwwwful? I just also don't... caaaaare. (I know that nobody except me was forcing me to read this book and a normal reader would have healthily stopped reading and moved on with their life when they realized it wasn't for them :D)
From my reading, this book contained some pretty gross stuff. Mainly:
- Racism against Muslims
- Date rape that results in the rape victim and the rapist being super in love with each other afterwards
I feel pretty unqualified to talk about both of these so I won't dwell on it that much. I will just say that sure, this might be a case of showing imperfect characters doing bad things, and we're not supposed to like these parts. In my opinion, that conceit was communicated extremely poorly (i.e. not at all) if it was the intent, but also fuckit, this was written 30 years ago and I know basically nothing about the authors then or now or any of their other works and I'll give all the benefit of the doubt about the whole thing. So, yeah, that's in this book but also whatever.
Outside of the really gross things though, this book took me a long time to get around to finishing since I just didn't like any of the characters that much, and so no matter who we cut back to in the ensamble, I was kinda like, "Oh. This person. Meh." I think on some level, literally every POV character is a scheming liar who I guess we're supposed to root for in duping everyone else and getting the upper hand on them by lying and scheming. And like... I don't... really... want that? Like I'm sure this type of scheming liars thing could be pulled off super well, but in this case it feels like the book wants me to like the characters mainly on the merit of how good at scheming and lying they are, and then any other character details come secondarily or not at all. idk.
Things I Liked About Threshold
With all of that said, this book did have occassional moments that worked for me, and here they are in list form :D
- There was a species of mind-controlling aliens who were described as looking "similar to raccoons" but then I don't think we ever actually learned any of the ways that they looked different to raccoons, so I got to just picture a trio of psychic raccoons as part of the cast.
- Even though I didn't particularly like the characters, they did still have some good character moments when we got to the wrapping-up part of the book. The resolution was nice even if the setup for it was bland.
- As I was leafing through the book trying to come up with a third thing, I smelled the book and it had that nice book smell.
Was Threshold Any Good?
Speaking objectively, I certainly couldn't say that Threshold doesn't deserve a passing grade. It did have a plot with narrative threads and characters, which all generally took the shape of conflict setup and conflict resolution. And also there weren't like, blatant inconsistencies or spelling mistakes or other technical errors, so like, on its face this would not be an embarrassing thing to have published if you were a Roc or a Penguin. Also on a less cynical note, since reading the book, I've looked at reviews online and there seem to be plenty of people who enjoyed the book and I'm happy for them. For meeeeee I have to give Threshold a thumbs down. I didn't actively hate most of it but I also didn't actively enjoy most of it.
This is Ray Thompson for A.N.U.S. Reviews, signing off o7