Bad to Worse, Robert Edeson

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Bad to Worse (2017) is a second novel and suffers from second novel syndrome. Which is to say that all the things which were exciting and new in the first novel are repeated in the second where they are self-evidently not new and nor are they very exciting.

Further, Bad to Worse suffers also from we’re on a roll here let’s go for a series syndrome. So we have the same mix of good guys, though in different proportions, as in The Weaver Fish (here), facing off against a new line-up of villians. As we will again in book 3 no doubt, as Worse believes firmly in permanent threat eradication, ie. killing. And just enough threads are left open at the end.

Worse, the principal good guy, is an independent, Perth-based, secret agent type, deadly in armed and unarmed combat and a supremely competent computer hacker; he has foils in philosopher detective Victor Spoiling of the WA Police, and in his friend philosopher psychiatrist Sigrid Blitt. In fact all the good guys are philosopher scientist poet mathematicians though their philosophy science poetry logic is mostly (ironically) bogus.

Worse’s love interest from The Weaver Fish, Millie Misgivington, almost makes it to Perth in time to be included in the action, but doesn’t. And the other members of the supporting cast – Walter Reckles who survives a mid-air collision, as he said he could, over the Arizona desert, and Millie’s brother Nicholas, and his team leader Paulo on Greater Ferendes play relatively minor parts; while Anna Camenes and Edvard Tøssentern, though frequently mentioned, like Millie stay out of the way in Cambridge.

The Chinese, who in The Weaver Fish were illegally clear-felling and mining the northern coastal plain of Greater Ferende, have been discarded by the author as a source of ongoing conflict/outrage after promising much and delivering little; and neither the Asiatic Condor nor the Weaver Fish is given even a walk on part, though a giant, upright, cave-dwelling crab plays a minor role in terrifying Nicholas and Paulo.

The story this time is that the enormously wealthy and dishonest Mortiss family from Chicago have an ongoing vendetta against the Worse family in Dante, Arizona arising from a shoot-out between Sheriff Thomas Worse and members of the Mortiss family in 1877. When our Worse hears that Walter Reckless has crashed and survived after a collision with a drone from the mysterious Area Pi facility outside Dante he writes and introduces himself to Sheriff Thomas Worse the sixth, and begins investigating, soon finding links to the Mortiss family.

Of course there is stuff going on in the Ferendes that also has links to the Mortiss family, and the family has a fleet of dodgy cruise liners that leads to Worse and Brigit taking an unfortunate trip where they meet Hilario, an apparently telepathic steward, who is clearly destined to play an on-going role (perhaps as chaperone for Millie, if she ever makes it to Perth).

My favourite line: “There was another loud obstructed inspiration from Haberdash” [ie. the villian was having trouble breathing] illustrates perfectly how Ederson uses scientific/medical language to both obscure and enhance meaning. And then amid all the science there is an ultimate ocker moment, billy tea in the bush:

Worse grabbed the lidless billy’s wire handle, using green forest leaves for insulation. He stood back from the fire, and began to swing the billy like a pendulum. Suddenly, from a forward under-swing, it went full circle at high speed, revolving round and round at arm’s length, the boiling tea retained by nothing but centrifugal force. He stopped the exercise by running forward as it slowed.

Eventually, it all comes together in Arizona and the bad guys, and one very bad gal, lose.

Too often the plot is advanced by the characters writing letters to each other, which I find infuriating; there is a conceit about the author of the Worse chronicles being unknown, which you should ignore; and some unnecessary appendices which if you are going to read at all read during the course of the novel because you certainly won’t be bothered when you’ve finished.

I’ve been hard on Bad to Worse because I expected more. The writing in The Weaver Fish sparkled, there was a good balance between experimental writing, action and character development. Some of the ‘experimental’ elements remain in Bad to Worse – particularly long and sometimes amusing footnotes – but the writing is mostly bog standard SF. Long on action, short on character. What was Literature in the first novel is now just Genre.

But. Read it anyway. Teacher son enjoyed though he wished had read The Weaver Fish first. It’s still fun despite all my carping, if a bit on the bloody side, and book 3 is bound to be better. We might even get a bit of cosy, Cambridge, hand-holding romance.

 

Robert Edeson, Bad to Worse, Fremantle Press, Fremantle, 2017

see also my review of Robert Edeson, The Weaver Fish (here)

12 thoughts on “Bad to Worse, Robert Edeson

  1. This fellow has a knack for names. My favourite being Victor Spoiling – perfect for a detective type. Millie Misgivington and Sigrid Blitt just make me laugh. Not sure if I’m meant to!

    Jay Hicks

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      • I don’t think you have – Reckless sounds like auto-correct at work! BTW I was going to ask about the names. I particularly liked Millie Misgivington of the ones you gave. Are these supposed to tell us that these books are meant to be satiric (and if so, of what) or comic? Like, say, Ben Elton?

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  2. This sounds like a dog’s breakfast but you reckon we should read it….? Reckon I would be better to start with Weaver Fish if I was to choose some Aussie sci-fi.

    In regards to names, I find silly character names infuriating. I know they can be an attempt at humour or being clever but more often than not, they’re just silly. Reading your review alone, I was irritated by the names so not sure how I’d go with a whole book! (The exception was Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding – he played on melodramatic baseball names and nailed it).

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    • Not quite a dog’s breakfast – it holds together quite well as a spoof/action/SF genre novel – but not even close to the standard of The Weaver Fish, I think Australia is doing quite well at the boundary between postmodern lit and SF/Fantasy. Think Jane Rawson, Claire Coleman (Terra Nullius), Ellen van Neerven. But another Perth writer does comic SF – Simon Haynes with his Hal Spacejock series – and maybe that’s where Edeson is heading.

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      • Okay, well having read some Ellen van Neerven (but not liking all of it), I can safely say that I’ve at least read some Aussie postmodern lit-SF-fantasy. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Heat and Light, the story about the plant people has never left my mind.

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      • You and I have discussed Mrs Jellyby before, after I mis-read the name as Jellybelly (she was modelled on Australian heroine Caroline Chisholm). I have read very little Dickens but I believe that he used these names as a form of emphasis about his characters’ characters, whereas I think Edeson is just making jokes. In fact I’m sure these are books Edeson has lots of fun writing.

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  3. Ah, I should have read the comments first – I see the books are spoof sci-fi.

    I agree with Kate that “funny” names have to have a role in the novel, but I’ve read quite a few books (including of course Dickens) where I think authors have used them well.

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