Curioddity by Paul Jenkins
Paul Jenkins is a fairly prolific writer of comics and video games, so this novel is a bit of a different medium for his story telling.
“Curioddity” refers to the Curioddity Museum, which a weird assemblage of junky looking artifacts with dubious provenances, enlivened by magic. The whole city is imbued with similar situations: boring, mundane reality which is imbued with amazing magic, if you are willing to let go and see it.
The story involves the reawakening of the lively imagination of Wil, who has been living a very, very dreary life. Through a series of events, he rediscovers what his late mother taught him, “your eyes only see what you mind lets you believe”. Wil learns to “un-look” at the world, and begins to see the astonishing things happening all around.
In a few remarkable days, Wil invigorates his lackluster career as an investigator, reconciles with his father, and gets a girlfriend. His new smart phone has a very shirty AI, who puts the “smartass” in “smart” phone. Oh, and he fights a bunch of aliens, killer ninjabots, blows stuff up, and saves the day.
A pretty exciting week, overall.
If this sounds like s comic book or video game, it is. The plot and characters are shallow and not especially logical. The entire point of magic and “un-looking” is to let random and illogical stuff happen. That may be magical, but it makes for a rather, well, random plot. Honestly, a string of completely arbitrary events isn’t actually all that interested to read about.
The characters and their problems are cartoonish, and the setting is also 2D, though highly detailed visually. There are lots of wonderful things in this city, but they are all just ‘drawings’ of things. In other words, it’s a comic-book like.
The plot is pretty video game-y, as well. There is a boss enemy to overcome, lots of ‘quests’ throughout, plenty of lightning bolts and explosions, and even an improbably outsized bag of “gear” that has to be dragged along on the quest. Much of the action involves racing about, nattering with what amount to NPCs, and solving (trivial) puzzles—just like a video game.
I have observed that conventional imaginative fiction (e.g., appearing as a novel without pictures) is certainly being influenced by these visual media (e.g., The Path, The Regional Office is Under Attack, Made To Kill, or Empire State).
Now, I enjoy comic books and video games (in moderation), but it isn’t clear to me that this sort of story telling is really a good use of a novel as a form.
Bottom line: this is a light weight little story, pleasant enough but not terribly satisfying. It’ll make a great comic book series.
- Paul Jenkins, Curioddity, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2016.
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